Wandering through the medina of a town in Morocco can turn out to be a very exciting and overwhelming experience. I’ll start by saying this.
Shopping in Morocco can be intense.
When entering a medina in any town in Morocco, being prepared is key. Going in with the right attitude can make or break your experience.
With two months in this beautiful country, we were able to really indulge in the shopping style and get better at avoiding bad negotiations.
There are some major considerations with shopping in any Medina in Morocco. Here is an outline of what we believe are some of the most important “know-hows” before heading off for your shopping adventure.
- Haggling and Negotiating Prices in the Medina
- Avoiding Scams and “Fake Items” in Morocco
- Traveling and Shopping as a Woman versus a Man
- How to Deal with Aggressive Shopkeepers and being Hassled
This travel guide is not meant to frown upon the Moroccan shopping experience. By keeping an understanding of certain behaviors and culture, buying goods in the medina can be extremely fun.
Also, we feel it is important to note- Moroccan people are extremely humble, nice, and are very friendly. But there are many people in this country that take advantage of this and the result can make you feel harassed or annoyed. Our time spent there was met with some of the most incredible local people along with some people that made us feel like dirt. More on this later…
When you first begin your shopping experience in the old walls of a Moroccan city, it is a great idea to take at least one day aside to simply check on the prices of items that you would like. We even took a total of three days just to become acquainted with how much goods cost.
If you are interested in knowing decent prices for individual items, then check out our True Prices of Common Shopping Goods in Morocco. Otherwise, stick around to learn the skills of Moroccan haggling.
Haggling and Negotiating Prices in Morocco
Be prepared to bargain in Morocco as it is the norm inside the old walls of the city. Nothing will be priced, and it will take a bit of perseverance and time to understand a fair offer. This goes for everything inside the medina from a small piece of fruit to the most exquisite rugs.
Let’s start with the basics.
Areas closer to the “tourist spots” and popular walkways are more expensive
This is noticed quickly with spending a little bit of time within the walls. It is common for shops in popular locations to start with a much higher price than shops in more discreet locations.
If you have a specific item in mind, we recommend taking the time to ask for the price at multiple shops in multiple locations before finally deciding to make a purchase. When making the final sale, it might be worth hunting around for a store off the main path to avoid paying an additional “tourist tax”.
If you look like you have money, they will price items much higher
It is not uncommon for shop owners to offer their goods at an inflated price to people who look wealthier or have dead giveaways of where they are from. We made sure to try our best to blend in and not look like American tourists but of course, there is only so much that can be done.
This is a great time to consider how you are dressed. Think about dressing down for your shopping adventure and deciding if certain clothing items make you look like you come from a certain country (that’s right- leave your cowboy hat at home).
Finding a middle ground in haggling and negotiating
Let’s say for example that you are interested in a leather backpack with Berber carpet. You may find that the bag is priced at 650 dirhams (around $65 USD) when you first enter the medina.
You then walk for an hour and find the same bag again that is priced at 350 dirhams ($35 USD). You then tell the shop owner you could pay 180 dirhams for the backpack.
You may then find yourself going back and forth to find a middle ground on a price of 220 dirhams ($22 USD).
Once the sale is finished, the shopkeeper is often pleased to work with you and bags your item/items.
In fact, after the sale is finalized, you may be wondering if you got a good deal or if you still overpaid…
It is truly a game.
We recommend going out and haggling in Morocco on a day that you are feeling good and confident and to leave an off day for a different activity.
While most shop owners are friendly, there are a few that might act offended or make you feel terrible after making certain offers. They may leave you feeling bad for taking up their time without making a purchase.
Here are the main takeaways for haggling and negotiating in Morocco:
- Take at least one day price shopping without making any purchases.
- Go into the experience with the right attitude and be respectful, but also be confident.
- Know a price you are willing to pay beforehand and find a meeting ground with a shopkeeper.
- Do not be “bullied” into buying goods from pushy shopkeepers.
- It is OK to simply walk away.
- Be prepared to pay a third or half of the original starting price. While this is a good standard, all the shop owners work differently, and prices can vary from shop to shop.
- The RIGHT price is the price your willing to pay. Not necessarily the lowest possible outcome. Remember that these people work hard and many times for very little.
Avoiding Scams and “Fake Items” in Morocco
So, this is an area you must keep your wits about you. While there are many wonderful hand-crafted items that are made in Morocco or surrounding countries, they are also many imported items from China.
For example, we have seen a shopkeeper that has claimed items to be copper when they are clearly brass or when an item of clothing is clearly imported.
As a rule of thumb, we would never make a purchase from anyone that was overly pushy or seemed too aggressive on a sale. There are certain people that will flat out lie to you and can turn a shopping experience into a bad one.
One such example of this for us was our first visit to one of the largest tanneries in Fes, Morocco.
When entering the wonderful emporium, we were quickly approached by a man who wanted to show us around. Our first reaction was “no thanks” and we just want to look, around. He replied, “I am not like the others, I want to show you my shop for free. I will show you everything for free.”
He would show us leather poofs which he stated were priced at 1,300 DH ($130 USD) and claimed it was a “special price” for us and he would charge others much more money. (We found out later that the same items were priced down to 300-500 DH).
After some time, he followed us around the shop and would not let us look at anything by ourselves and soon became aggressive. When finally having to raise the tone and tell him to leave us alone, he screamed at us saying that we needed to pay him for his time and when we didn’t, to never come back there again. The experience was terrible. We were roped into this uncomfortable scenario with him saying that he would show us around for free (which was clearly a lie).
Not only was he trying to charge us four or five times as much as a standard price of these items, but he lied to us about giving us a free tour and made us extremely uncomfortable when he would not stop following us.
With that said, you must be careful of any help you accept within the medina walls. While most of the shop keepers are lovely people, some of them will try and take advantage of you.
Here are some main things to consider when avoiding scams in Morocco:
- Understand what to look for in authenticity.
- Do not let a shopkeeper “bully” you into a sale. Shady tactics often come with shady products
- Understand the price of an item from multiple shops before any final purchase.
- Be confident and always feel ok with walking away
Traveling and Shopping as a Woman versus a Man
First off, I want to express that traveling to Morocco as a female (whether solo or with a partner) is a wonderful and safe experience. With that said, Morocco is a very different culture than many western countries and the way people treat you as a female could be much more different than a male. When it comes to travel, it is important to go into these experiences with a smile and the right attitude and you will have a great time.
Our travel was as a couple, a male and female, and we feel that is important to relay our experience of how we felt treated differently in different scenarios.
During our two months of traveling through Morocco, most of our time was spent together in various interactions. Here are her recommendations and her advice on traveling through this wonderful country with a partner and alone.
Traveling as a Couple through Morocco being a Woman
While this may not reflect every woman’s experience through this country, I feel it is important that I can share my experience to help others have the best time possible in this different culture and amazing place.
When traveling and shopping with my partner in Morocco, I many times felt like I was not acknowledged by most people. When I would ask questions about items, they would look at my partner and respond to him and often it would take an emotional toll. There were many times I felt “unequal” and that my male partner was the “authority”.
This is not to say that these people were treating me poorly. But, indulging in this new culture was often times difficult and I would need to recoup myself before going out again.
It was very important for me to have a confident attitude in order to be comfortable with how I would feel that day from certain interactions.
Traveling Alone through Morocco as a Woman
The times that I would travel and shop alone without my partner, I felt that I was treated much differently.
I got many more stares when I was alone as opposed to feeling less acknowledgment when I am with my partner. I would also sometimes have people saying things under their breath when they would pass me. This could be flattering in certain cultures, but it did not feel that way to me.
When shopping by myself, I felt more disrespected and taken less seriously than when I was with my partner.
One time, I stepped away to shop by myself for 15 minutes and within that time was given a small sample of argan oil on my wrist and was yelled at when I lightly touched a scarf at a different shop.
The shopkeeper whispered something under his breath and did not have a friendly attitude towards me.
While many Moroccan people were extremely friendly towards me, the different culture was still at times emotionally difficult and draining.
It is important to understand that even if I felt terrible from an interaction with a Moroccan person, that does not mean that they were being rude or disrespectful.
It is always wise to respect the culture, dress appropriately, and understand the different customs.
Here is my main advice for all you women travelers when shopping in Morocco:
- Dress appropriately and do not call unwanted attention to yourself
- Be prepared to be treated differently as a woman
- Have fun and be respectful to the Moroccan culture
How to Deal with Aggressive Shopkeepers and being Hassled
Shopping in Morocco is a whole different world and some people may have a difficult time with the style of haggling and negotiating.
It can be overwhelming. Especially when you first arrive in a medina.
Our first day arriving in Fes, Morocco, we were easy targets and people take that opportunity to try and make money. When we walked into the old walls, we were weathered from traveling, carrying our luggage around, and had our phones out in the hopes of finding our riad where we were staying.
Within moments, we had children swarming us trying to lead us to the correct destination for some money. Shop owners were immediately calling out to us and often times following us.
“Special Price just for You”
It was endless. Our first reaction was to run and hide.
But, by day three, we felt comfortable. Without the dazed look in our eyes and more blended clothing, we had fewer people calling out to us. We even spent a half-day simply wandering around a large medina with headphones in to block out any aggressive tactics or over-the-top shopkeepers.
Keep a solid head on your shoulders and go with the flow.
It will feel much better once you become acquainted with it. Always remember to show respect and kindness as much as possible and not to let any overly aggressive sales get you down.
Also, it is important to note that many towns can be quite different in the amount of hassling and disruptive behavior. We noticed that our way from Fes to Marrakesh to Essaouira changed dramatically and turned out more mellow as we traveled closer to the coast.
Fes was where we got the best deals and dealt with the most disruptive behavior. Marrakesh was similar in style but was much more mellow. Essaouira was the most relaxed in the way that shopkeepers approach you (even though one shop owner grabbed ahold of my arm while I was walking past with headphones).
Important considerations to dealing with disruptive and aggressive Shopkeepers:
- Never accept help unless you are 100% certain it is genuine and without any expectations.
- Be kind and show respect when declining disruptive shopkeepers.
- Do not be guilted into a sale. Certain behavior is unacceptable in their culture and should not be encouraged if you are in a bad situation.
- Do not maintain eye contact beyond an initial decline. If you say no and walk away once, do not invite more attention.
Moroccan Shopping is Fun and Exciting
Overall, some of the points in the guide might scare you. This guide is not meant to deter you away from visiting or shopping in this incredible country. But we also wanted to give it to you real. It can be difficult at times and it will require a bit of thick skin.
We had an amazing time and experience in all the towns that we visited, and a few poor situations were nothing compared to the great memories we shared with some of the people of Morocco. We recommend everyone going there for a visit and can’t wait to find ourselves back in that wonderful enchanting land.