Buying rugs in Morocco is a pretty wild experience. The sales guys have their process totally dialed in, and most of the time for them, it works. I had a fair amount of formal sales training when I was at Yelp, and seeing the way these rug hustlers operate really drove home the points my bosses at Yelp would reiterate ad nauseam. Here's a step by step breakdown of how these Moroccan carpet cowboys separate unwitting tourists from their money (in exchange for a beautiful, hand-knotted, one of a kind item which will enliven your boring house and life).
1. Build Rapport
Classic sales step in any situation. People like to buy stuff from people they like. This is sales 101. Usually asking about the local sports franchise or a really good opening gambit about weather will set the tone. In Morocco, they serve you very sweet and delicious mint tea, ask about your family, your home country, whatever. Moroccans by and large tend to be chatty and charming individuals and speak an astonishing array of languages. It is not hard to have a good conversation with a Moroccan, and they quickly make you feel at ease. At this point they are not rushing to show you the rugs at all. Just be patient and enjoy it.
This step will usually be blended with step one. As they ask you their seemingly innocuous and solicitous questions of where you're from, your job, how long you've been in Morocco, if it's your first time in Morocco, etc, they are really figuring out how many dirhams they can get from you. If you're North American, just got to Marrakesh yesterday and have never been to Morocco before, you will DEFINITELY be paying more than a French expat who has a riad in the Medina. If you are wearing a fanny pack or tevas or if you're a man wearing shorts and you have sunscreen residue on your face, just hand over your wallet, you are done here. You can try your weak-ass French to show you're more legit, but they'll switch to English and make you feel like a chump.
This is the fun part. The heretofore charming and slick carpet salesman will yell a few words of guttural Arabic and two scared looking teenage boys will appear in matching mandarin collar jackets and fez style hats. These guys will do the back breaking labor of unfurling as many rugs as it takes to get you to buy one. The salesman will keep the tea a-flowing as he tells you about the different weaving tribes of Morocco, the artistry that goes in to the rugs, and the amount of time it takes to make them. The rugs snap as they roll them out in front of you to great dramatic effect, and the salesman carefully monitors your reaction to get a sense of what type of rugs they should be showing you. Next thing you know, there'll be like 40 rugs in front of you, and you have to start eliminating the ones you don't like. For some reason, they always have to yell at the teenagers to remove them, and they scramble quickly to get the rugs you're not interested in out of the way. This needle in the haystack process can take a long time, and the salesmen are very patient. The most important thing for them is to keep you there and interested, so if you need food or anything at all, it takes just a yelled command to the helpers and they will produce a tagine or a merguez sandwich. Once you get your selection whittled down to a manageable number, we move on to the next section, which is pricing/bargaining.
This is the part everyone fears. In our culture, we're used to the price being the price, and don't negotiate in too many situations. Bargaining is awkward and outside of our cultural norms. We hate awkward situations and try to avoid them at all costs. Moroccans are aware of and prey upon this weakness. I bet there are people that just accept the first (often extortionate) price for something they love, buy it, and that's it. If you're happy with the rug and the price you paid, who cares, right? It's a win/win. If, however, you don't have a ton of money, or are buying over 80 rugs to ship back to Canada and start a Moroccan rug store on College St. that you and your family will depend on for food and the basic necessities of life, you are 100% going to want to bargain as hard as you can. Bargaining is best done with a smile, respect for the other person, and no emotional investment in the process. The seller will often start with a very inflated first number. There are no hard and fast rules, but don't be afraid to come back with a ridiculously low counter offer. There is no downside to doing this, and you're not going to personally insult anyone. ALWAYS negotiate with the price of shipping baked into the final cost, as this will incentivize the seller to get the best deal possible on shipping. Embrace the awkward, haggle back and forth until you get to a mutually agreeable number, and get to the last step, which is closing.
This is simple. You've bargained to a price that you're willing to pay. You feel like you've won (you haven't, objectively, but that's ok), now is the time to arrange payment and get your merchandise. Most of the bigger places take credit card, but they'll usually want you to pay some cash. Of course they'll be kind enough to show you the closest ATM so you can take out a couple thousand dirhams. The seller will also put his arm around your shoulders, look at you balefully, and ask you to tip the rug dudes. This would always piss me off, because I felt the sales guy should pay his staff, but it's whatever. Just do it or you'll look like a dick. The teenagers will then fold your rug into an impossibly small bundle on which you will sign your name. Deal is done.
So there you have it. You should now be a pro at buying rugs in Morocco. However, if you don't have a trip to Morocco planned, please come see us at Mellah at 1090 College St. in Toronto, Canada. We have a stylish selection of vintage Beni Ourains, Zaianes, Beni M'Guild, Azilal, Boucherouite and others. We'll be delighted to serve you a cup of tea and yell at your teenagers.