Young, Broke and Abroad: Five Steps to Negotiating in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

Young, Broke and Abroad: Five Steps to Negotiating in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

When I travel to any bazaar I try to dress like a local. This means no tennis shoes with big white socks, no hikers khakis or camera around my neck. When you dress normally, browse quietly,  and learn how to say “how much” in the native tongue, prices come down.

James and I were in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar a few months ago and were able to score a Turkish glass lighting fixture that started out with 120euro asking price – we got it for 35Euros, plus a mosaic votive holder for our trouble.

The best deals occur during low season, do not expect great deals with hundreds of tourists are ready to splurge around you. Go in October, November or March for the best deals. Also, get a thick skin – these vendors deal with hundreds of people everyday and just by looking at you they can see if your tough, or not. Go in knowing you will buy what you want for about 60-70% of the asking price. Confidence, low season and a native look are your most important assets.

The lamp I negotiated to get for 35 euros, down from 120 euro initial price

I walk around the bazaar first, and see what everyone has to offer and decide what I really want. When I browse, I don’t say anything, I don’t interact with any merchants – I look incredibly uninterested, bored and touch nothing. When we decide what we’d like, we walk back and ask “how much” to the exact thing I want to about three different vendors. For our lighting fixture, in rose colored glass with a bunch of metal work on it, the price ranged from about 120euros to 100euros at first. At this point you can determine a respectable price is around 35-45 euros – if you can be tough enough. I then divide my cash and stick the 35 euros in my wallet and transfer the rest of my cash to pockets or other compartments. So if I have too, I can say “Look, its all the cash I have left, and I don’t feel like finding an atm – take it or leave it.”

STEP ONE: Demand a Second or Third Price

These vendors are too close to the opening gates, go deeper

The vendors deeper in the market have more locals buying and see less tourists, so they tend to have better prices. I asked “how much,” and after the price, I say “no, give me another price.” This is your most important move. When you demand another price, and act as if the first price is  insulting, you start your negotiations at a lower starting point. They come back with “If you don’t like this price, you need to tell me what you want to pay” and I respond with “you’re the one with the shop, you’re the one selling it to me, so give me another price…” they will insist to know what you want to pay. At this point I say “If you’re not interesting in selling it, I can go to another shop,” they normally bend and lower the 100 euro start price to 85 euros. I still act insulted at this price, and ask for another.

STEP 2: Claim Insider Knowledge (which I do have)

I explain that I know a Moroccan store near my house (which I do) and I can buy it at home for that price (which I can), and say “Abdul would laugh at me if I came home with this lamp, when I could have bought it from him, cheaper and right near my house,” Then I say “come on, give me a real price.” And, typically they bring down the price to about 70 euros.

STEP 3: Pretend you’re at the end of your trip (which I normally am, I schedule shopping for last)

The alleys ways of shops go deep, keep going in for better prices

At this point I claim we’re at the end of our trip and financially drained. I also explain “this trip has cost more then we thought, and we are low on cash.” Each time I shopping in the bazaars, this was true, and I think worked to my advantage. I also say we have limited time, like our tour is going to start soon and we need to get going (which was also true, but worked to my advantage). During step three is when I state my price. I say “I have been to a lot of markets and I know a fair price is 30 Euros.” At this point, they will act angry and deeply insulted – its just a game – do not fall for it. They will start arguing with each other in different language.  Then you say “well, I guess its not meant to be, I don’t really need it – I will spend this money on dinner then instead” and/or you can say “I will just buy it from the importer near my house at home,” and start to wander off. They should say “hey, hey hey… ” and then you know you’ve got them.

Continue with phrases like “I cannot come home paying what I can near my own house, I am supposed to get a deal…right?” The vendor should now offer you a price at about half the starting price.

When prices are near 50%, say "That price would work, if it's for two lamps"

STEP 4: Two for one

Now that the price is around 50%-60% of the asking price, about 50 euros in this case say “You have a deal, if its for two lamps for 50 euros,” this will again anger the group.  Basically you have lowered your 30 euro offer to 25 euros per lamp. And, again  start to wander off, they will counter offer with “Okay, 40-45 euros for the light”. And you then remind them that you are running out of time, look at your watch and say “I don’t have this much time, we have a tour starting in a little bit… do you want to sell me the lamp or not?” Then they will ask, “how much will you pay for it” and you say, “30 Euros” and they will get very frustrated again. Look displeased at their games, and cross your arms and look impatient, not sorry.

STEP 5: The final showdown

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

I finish with the remark “I have done this before, I know what it’s worth, I am going to leave for good now if you don’t want to sell it” and then they say “okay, $35 euros” and you say “sold, if you throw in that votive” and they say “Okay”.  DONE!

If at any time, they allow you to walk off, you know your final price was a bit too low, and move it up 5 or 10 euros each time you start the negotiations. The items are sold over-and-over again in the market, so don’t think angering one vendor will have anything to do with how much you pay in the end.

And instead of feeling bad over negotiations like this, remember its okay haggling is a way of life in the markets, find the fun in conquering the sale!