Holiday shopping in Morocco
Shopping is best done without the 'help' of a guide! Go to the bottom of this page to read an experience of visiting the markets with a guide. The problem is that the guides tend to take people to shops (carpets, herbs etc..) and leave them in the hands of the shop keepers who can be very forceful and who often practice a 'very hard sell' which our clients tend to become upset by.
When traveling to Morocco, many people look forward to the exciting shopping that is on offer here. Morocco as a whole is a place with wonderful artisans working many different ancient and highly skilled trades to produce wonderful objects that are sold for small fortunes in Europe and the west. It would be a pity to come to Morocco and especially the cities of Fes and Marrakech, where the opportunities to purchase such items at much lower prices than you could find them for in the UK.
People travelling to Morocco however are often upset to find that shopping in Morocco ca be quite hard work! On this page, my aim is to give you a little insight into how things work in general when shopping in the various areas of Marrakech, its souks and alleyways (where most visitors tend to do their shopping).
I have spent years in the country and some of my time was spent buying goods to export to the UK (I had a couple of shops in England selling some of the best that Morocco's artisans had to offer). I also used to accompany serious shoppers into the souks to make large purchases of real antiques, carpets and furnishings (often to fit out businesses in Europe such as restaurants, shops, hotels and houses), so I have a rather deep understanding of how the souks work and how prices are come to.
Shopping in Morocco in general falls into two categories:
- Shops, Bazars, markets and street vendors who specifically target visitors to the country (commonly known as tourists).
- Shops or outlets that cater mainly to the locals and where prices are generally speaking 'fixed'.
Lets talk about the latter first. These places generally work by announcing an initial price that is sheer blind robbery (were you to pay it!)
The aim is to start by giving you such a high price that by the time you have (if you have the patience to do so) haggled it down to 50% of that initial asking price still made the shopkeeper's day a good one. In many cases the price that will be initially asked (certainly for the larger items with a value of over £60) will be more than you could get it for in London or New York.
Most tourists know that haggling or bartering is required to close just about any deal in these places but what they don't realise is that very often this has been taken into account before giving you the initial asking price. Therefore they tend to feel that by the time they have achieved a reduction of half of that initial asking price, that they have done an excellent job, got a great bargain and tend to go ahead and buy whatever it is that they are haggling over.
The sellers are clever and have had many years if not many generations to understand how we, the westerners work… They play a very slick game and generally make a good living out of it. Now, I am not going to tell you that you mustn't buy stuff, but my general warning is this:
Before you buy anything, ask yourself if you would pay that amount for this item if you saw it for sale on your local high street? I think it is safe to say that the answer to that question for many people is no, but they only realise that once it is too late and they have a bag of rubbish that they now have to get on the plan home etc..
My advice is that you should enjoy the markets and don't worry too much about the prices of small items (under £15-£20) BUT when it comes to the larger items, you MUST be more vigilant as the common trick is to tell you that things are 'antiques', very old, very precious etc... Let me tell you now that in the tourist markets there is today, very little in the way of real antiques on sale. There are a handful of serious antique dealers in Marrakech but they are few and far between and, generally speaking, you are unlikely to come across them unless you are really looking for them!
Carpets are a common 'danger zone' for people looking for bargains in the souks… Morocco does produce some lovely carpets and they are a great thing to take home with you and can look great once in your home. Be careful however with the prices, as most of the 'kilim' rugs (often woven from what they tell you is silk, when it is actually a type of cotton dyed with natural dyes) and similar woollen carpets, are seriously over priced when sold to tourists. When I say overpriced, I don't mean double but sometimes as much as 10x their actual value!!
Generally speaking, simple woollen carpets measuring roughly 2m x 3m cost in the region of 1,000 DH (£70) when bought by locals or people in the know. These same carpets are often sold to tourists for hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds! When I was living in Marrakech and looking after our many clients' needs for 12 years, I can't tell you the number of times that people proudly showed me rugs that they had bought in the souks for ridiculous money. In the cases where they had paid 2 or 3 times what I would have paid for it, I generally smiled and let them know that they had themselves a great carpet but when it was 5-10x what I would have paid, I often used to send them back to the shop requesting a decent price or a total refund on the purchase (I would call the shop and threaten to report them to the ministry of tourism and they would very quickly refund the client so as not to lose their right to sell).
I don't want to put you off shopping in Morocco, far from it in fact but do want to raise awareness amongst you, our precious clients, that care needs to be taken when shopping. I would prefer that you take a photo of any large purchase and quickly email it to me from the shop from a smart phone and I will tell you if you are doing something reasonable or NOT!
Listen, you are never going to pay the same prices as a local or as I do but that is normal… For that you would have to learn Arabic, spend years going in and out of the souks, getting to know all the 'real' prices and going to the factories where they are made so that you know how much the shopkeeper himself has paid for the item. That is not going to happen so you need to accept that you are never going to pay 'trade prices'. This however should not prevent you form getting a 'fair' price.
Marrakech has always had a thriving artisan community but to be honest, much of the stuff produced for the souks is of very low quality and certainly (in my opinion) of rather kitsch design.
The really lovely stuff tends to either be found in non-touristy places (very often up in the mountains, in peoples houses and in non-commercial places. Or it can be found in a few really lovely shops, generally run by Europeans or Moroccan designers who have an eye for the 'special stuff'.
These are generally not in the souks / markets but can be found in the newer area of Marrakech called Gueliz (a really lovely area to walk around, with nice cafe life, friendly shopkeepers and pretty much fixed prices.
Here are some of my recommendations:
IN GUELIZ (the new town area, outside the ramparts of the medina)
Place Vendome - Wonderful leather goods. The owner is a good friend and has been there since his father started it in 1950. Handbags, wallets, luggage, wash bags, clothing, and much more. Fixed prices are practiced but if you say that you are with Lawrence of Morocco, you will be given a small discount.
On the corner of Avenue Mohommed V and Rue de la Liberte. Tel: 05 24 43 52 63
L'Orientaliste - If you are looking for somewhere to buy items with great charm, artisan products that are really worth taking home, perfect for gifts and for doing your christmas shopping! The shop belongs to the wife of the owner of Place Vendome and the shop is only a few doors along from there in Rue de la Liberte.
Librarie Chatr - For books of all sorts (including all of the wonderful coffee table books with amazing images of all aspects of Moroccan life, design and culture.
Avenue Mohommed V (at the southern end towards the french Lycée Victor Hugo)
Marchee de Gueliz - Here you will find much of the same stuff you can find in the souks (pottery, thuya wood objects, spices, fresh foods, souvenirs and a wonderful flower market (you can buy 100 roses for as little as £10 and take them home in the hold of the plane!
Located by the Gendarmerie Royale in the Gueliz, just off Avenue Hassan II.
The other interesting area to visit is Sidi Ghanem (the industrial neighbourhood on the road out of Marrakech heading to Safi. Here you will find some really interesting places / people who have set up businesses producing all sorts of items such as cement tiles, iron work, wood carving, candle making. There are artists and furniture designers of all sorts but generally with a Moorish / Moroccan edge to their products. Much of this area produces goods that are not for the local market but are exported directly to the discerning European and American retailers. Here you can take advantage of factory outlet prices (wholesale prices) even though you may only be buying in small quantities.
In SIDI GHANEM (the new industrial zone on the road to Safi, just outside town)
Florence Teillet Showroom - for wonderful hand-woven fabrics - everything from desert tones to vibrant shades.
Tel: 06 61 22 59 05
Amira - If you are planning a big party or a wedding it's almost worth trekking here to source your candles, some of which are the size and shape of Ali Baba jars. Argon scented ones are the best.
277 Sidi Ghanem, Marrakech Tel: 05 24 33 62 47
Lilah Spirit - does great one-off objects, wonderful linen and L'Orientaliste scents.
294 Sidi Ghanem, Marrakech
Via Notti - The ideal place to find high quality bed linen made with Egyptian-Italian cotton, decorated in Morocco. Although a little on the expensive side, it is definitely worth a visit. A full set will cost between 2,000 and 3,000 dhs (£158-£238).
278/322, Sidi Ghanem; Tel: 05 24 35 60 24
Peau D’Ane - Here you can choose from an amazing selection of silver and other metallic designs in a myriad shapes and sizes.
297, Sidi Ghanem, Marrakech Tel: 05 24 33 65 50
La Boutique de L’Atelier - There is no better place in Sidi Ghanem to find good quality design objects than this tiny shop. From stylish plates and trays to colourful aprons, lamps and even paintings - if you can’t make up your mind about what to buy, there are lots of staff at hand to offer some helpful advice.
294, Sidi Ghanem Tel: 05 24 35 62 06
Review of shopping with a guide in Marrakech by our clients
Marrakesh was very interesting, we enjoyed the main sights and we enjoyed being shown around the centre by our tour guide, another Rachid, but with reservations as included in his tour were visits to a co-operative carpet shop and a perfume, spices and herb shop, which were less enjoyable. At the perfume, spices and herbs shop we were left with a woman who took us to a room where she launched into a presentation on the various Argan oils, potions, herbs etc that her shop sold followed by a very hard sell on the products. We each ended up spending just over 1,000 dhs but we felt she was very pushy, and although we did buy she kept trying to cajole us into buying more, even at the cash register point. It spoilt it for us and we were glad to escape! We then had the same experience in the carpet shop. We were brought in and shown around and then many carpets were being taken out “just to show us – no obligation to buy” the styles/colours. When we said we probably not be buying the owner just said ‘no worries’ but insisted on his helper taking out many more and he continually questioned us on which we would like etc. We ended up buying a small carpet but to be honest we would have preferred a different approach to it and it would have felt difficult to leave without a purchase because of his pushiness…and again we felt that obligation to purchase with his attitude. Our friends said later they would quite liked to have purchased a carpet but did not want to buy there with the pressurised situation. It felt very different to an occasion in March of this year when we visited a souk in Oman and the guide with us on that occasion just followed us into shops we wanted to visit and helped out when the shop/stall owners became ‘pushy’. The difference is that tour guide Rachid clearly took us to these shops because he had an understanding with the owners and did not warn us in any way what experience we were being put into and deliberately stayed outside both shops after he had handed us over to the care of the respective shop owners. May be there was a touch of naivety on our part, but had we known what was coming we would have asked not to visit these shops because of the hard sell.
Our friends said later they would quite liked to have purchased a carpet but did not want to buy there with the pressurised situation. It felt very different to an occasion in March of this year when we visited a souk in Oman and the guide with us on that occasion just followed us into shops we wanted to visit and helped out when the shop/stall owners became ‘pushy’. The difference is that tour guide Rachid clearly took us to these shops because he had an understanding with the owners and did not warn us in any way what experience we were being put into and deliberately stayed outside both shops after he had handed us over to the care of the respective shop owners. May be there was a touch of naivety on our part, but had we known what was coming we would have asked not to visit these shops because of the hard sell.