Buying Carpets & Bargaining

In many parts of the world I visit on cruise ships bargaining is an expected way of life.  Sometimes you will find a store with “fixed” prices, but generally there as well there is some negotiating room.  When you go to a market or souk or even store in Oman, Dubai, Turkey, Morocco and most African countries you are expected to bargain.  The original asking price is intended to be a starting point from which you negotiate to a price you are willing to pay and the seller is willing to accept.

Since this is a different way of shopping for many cruise passengers, when we are visiting an area where bargaining is expected I try to give them some hints as to how to bargain.

1. Know the Market – Know something about the product you are buying, particularly high-end products like gold, carpets, jewelry, ceramics and quality pottery.  Everywhere in the world there are genuine, locally produced, high-quality products and there are cheap imported copies and knock-offs.  You need to know enough about the product you are buying that you can tell the difference.  Even if you are buying a “Genuine Fake Watch” in Turkey, there are well-done fakes and cheap fakes.

2. Don’t show enthusiasm.  Of course if you rave over an item the seller knows he “has” you.  I suggest buyers wear dark glasses to avoid being hounded by sellers in areas where that’s just the way business works.  The dark glasses prevent the shop owner from making eye contact or seeing what you are interested in possibly buying.  I would suggest picking up and looking at various items, maybe asking prices, including what you are ultimately interested in.  There are generally lots of shops, so don’t jump too fast.

3. What’s it worth . . . to you.  Ultimately it is what the item is worth to you, regardless of the asking price and regardless of what other people on your ship or sitting at your table paid for the same item.  Determine early on what you are willing to pay.

4. Let the shopkeeper go first.  He gives you a starting price and you negotiate from there.

5. Counter offer.  You make a counter offer which can be anywhere from a third to  half of the asking price depending on how inflated you know the asking price to be, which is why you have to know something about the market. If you offer way too low, the shopkeeper will know he’s dealing with someone who does not know the market.

6. If you buy several get a discount.

7. Don’t haggle over pennies.

8. Don’t be afraid to walk away… and perhaps come back  Often the price will drop as you walk away, but you still can walk away and look elsewhere and maybe buy elsewhere or come back with your tail between your legs to take his now lowest offer.

9. Don’t feel obligated to buy until you’ve agreed on a price at which point you have entered into a verbal contract and you are expected to buy.   This isn’t just a game and it is disrespectful to make it into a game, to beat the seller down and then not to buy.  It is, after all, the seller’s livelihood.

10. Presumed price is local currency cash unless you’ve made clear otherwise.  Credit cards, traveler’s checks, other currencies may occur additional fees

11. Take the purchase with you if possible.  Yes, I know “free shipping” may be included, but as you should know by now nothing is free.  “What can you do if I take it along with me?”  You will be amazed at how tightly a beautiful Turkish rug can be packed.

12. Understand how the tourist game is played.  Everyone along the way gets a cut.  In Turkey it’s the government, the cruise line, the marketing company working the cruise line, the tour operator and the guide, all of whom get a cut of your purchase.  The cruise line has “Preferred Shops”.  Usually those “Preferred” signs are genuine, but there are copies and fakes out there, shops that put up a “Preferred” sign but have no “marketing agreement” with the cruise line.  So yes, the cruise line is getting a cut, but it is providing in most cases a kind of insurance as well that if something is being shipped and doesn’t arrive, or is damaged, or is not what you ordered, the cruise line and the tour operator will represent you locally and make it right.  So rather than thinking of it as a “kick back” or “referral fee” you can think of it as insurance.  Whether or not  you need the insurance is up to you.

I have bought carpets in Turkey both ways.  Last year I went into town in Kusadasi just to have a pair of pants hemmed.  It was the last ship to call of the season.  Almost all the passengers were watching the carpet shows at the preferred shops.  I wandered up a side street in an area where there were lots of free Internet cafes that crew members regularly use.  A very, and I do mean VERY, clever shop owner engaged me in conversation.  I told him upfront I wasn’t looking for rugs or interested, but was just waiting for the tailor to finish my pants.  He started asking about the ship and crew stuff.  Turned out the shop has been his family’s for years.  Off season his brother scours Turkey looking for interesting and valuable carpets.  He does “road shows” of carpets in the US, and here’s the interesting part, works as an engineer for Royal Caribbean.  So now we are talking cruise ships.   It’s the end of the season and nobody is around.  “Come on in and have some coffee and let me show you some of our more interesting carpets.”  Like a fisherman he reeled me in!  Again I told him I wasn’t buying, but we got talking about carpets, good ones and ones dumped on tourists.  And how the business works and who gets what and what percentages and how the who “preferred” thing works.  And he did have some beautiful carpets.

A couple I really liked.  Particularly one which was a 75-year-old family heirloom carpet which had been a girl’s dowry carpet made of Alpaca wool, since I had already told him I had three dogs but Alpaca is a tight, flat weave that the dogs couldn’t hurt.  Great salesman this guy!  $9,000.  Obviously I’m not buying!   He explained how things worked.  I’m walking into his store, not with any tour guide, no marketing agreement, OK credit card, but if I carried it away so no shipping.  $4,000.  Wow!  I don’t have $4,000 for a carpet!  He does some figuring, talks to his father.  Besides I’ve been on the ship 3 months, I already have too much luggage to take home.

OK, see how tightly we can wrap it.  His brother runs out and buys a cheap pink rollerboard, and they stuff the carpet in.  Carry on size luggage.  My pants are ready and I’ve got to be back on the ship!  Final offer $3,500.

Problem is by now I LOVE the carpet.  In my head I’m thinking no way is he going to drop the price further.  But I would pay $2,400 for this beautiful carpet.  I’m walking out the door . . . “Look you’re the last ship.  Next week we close the shop and everything sits here until next season.  $2,500 and you take it with you.”

“Look I didn’t come in here to buy anything!  I told you!  But if you are as good of an engineer as you are a salesman, Royal Caribbean is very lucky!  If  you can take a credit card . . . and if we can do it for $2,400 . . . I’ll take it.”

And as I write this it graces the floor in my library and is worth every penny I paid, and probably a lot more.

In Turkey almost every tour includes a carpet demonstration.  There really is no pressure to buy and it is very informative.  I’ve been to dozens of these demonstrations and I’ve learned a lot.  Turkish carpets are fascinating works of art and there is an amazing variety.  Go to the demonstration and you will see lots and lots of carpets literally “flying” through the room.  You will learn a lot and may see the very carpet you wish to buy.  They will ship them to your home and the cruise lines through their marketing agreements will generally guarantee safe delivery.  Or you can go off and shop around, buy on your own and accept whatever risk is involved.  But even with the “preferred” stores, the starting price is the starting price and you should not be afraid to aggressively bargain.  If you don’t see what you want or can’t get the deal you want you can always look elsewhere.

If you do buy a carpet and have it shipped I would suggest taking a picture of the carpet as well as signing it in magic marker on the back side.  That way you know the carpet your bought is the one delivered.

One thought on “Buying Carpets & Bargaining

  1. I love it!  More details on your carpet escapade.  It does look absolutely beautiful in your home.  You definitely got your money’s worth.

    When I finally get moved to Boquete, I’ll want to find me one of those rugs for underneath my piano.

      James Davis Brandon, MS


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