It makes sense to start this post by saying we are not rug experts. There, we said it. Yes, we’ve purchased rugs from different places around the world, but to become a rug expert take years and that is one thing we don’t currently have on our side.
But we do have personal experience. We’ve bought Moroccan rugs. In person. In bulk. With a guide. And without a guide. And we’re here for the tell-all.
Do Your Rug Research
The very best advice I have for rug (zerbiya in Arabic) shopping is to come prepared. I underestimated how dizzying of an exercise this would be and honestly I impulse purchased some…even after spending 6 hours in a single warehouse.
I’d suggest researching Moroccan rugs beforehand and saving photos of those you like. Even better: print photos of your top contenders. If you have an entire mood board—including photos and/or colors of the room you’re looking to fill—bring it with you. Yes, it may sound silly but it will save you time, energy, and confusion if you know what you’re looking for.
If you find one you love, don’t say, “Oh, I’ll just come back for it later.” Even if you have excellent directional skills, finding your way back through the maze of the souks will prove to be nearly impossible.
You WILL BE overwhelmed. It doesn’t matter how discerning your eye is. If you’re a neutral-lover you may find yourself falling head over heels for a deep green hue. I can’t explain it. When you’re in the red city you acclimate to your surroundings. And the surroundings are VIBRANT.
Negotiate: There’s No Way Around It
To start, you’ll be offered mint tea. It’s fine to accept this. You’re not agreeing by accepting this simple custom.
After you’ve searched a bit you may hear someone say, “Oh, you have such good taste. Very expensive taste.” This is just as common as, “I’ll make you a very good price.” No need to respond to react; just keep looking. When you’ve narrowed down your choices it’s time to get to the money conversation.
If negotiating makes you uncomfortable, join the club 🖐🏼. I’m a recovering people pleaser and read much more into a situation than I should. If this sounds like you, just know you’re going to have to let that go before heading to Morocco.
Moroccan rug dealers expect you to negotiate with them. The first number they throw out is high on purpose. Do NOT accept it. They want to know how much you want it and want to get as much out of each transaction as possible.
My general rule is to counter the price someone quotes at 50% less. A great tip that I once heard is that if you’re unwilling to pay half of what someone quotes you, it’s not worth your time to negotiate. Move on.
This will allow you to meet in the middle, at somewhere between 50-70% of the first price. But know there’s no hard and fast here. I recently met someone locally who paid four times what I paid for a leather pouf. If they sense you’re a tourist you’re going to get a higher price at the outset.
If you’ve gone back and forth on some numbers, you may be asked, “Okay, what’s your maximum price?” This one got me. I didn’t want to offend someone and yet the price I was quoted was far outside of my range. This is why it’s so important to have a budget going in. That way you can be hard and firm about what you’re willing to pay. If it’s simply outside of your range, let them tell you that. Don’t assume you know how much something is worth, as that’s a completely relative concept when it comes to this topic.
If you’re dying for specific numbers I will tell you that the least we paid for a rug was $100. And this was a small door mat. The most we paid was $2000 and we kind of got swindled there—but it was a very large area rug and my desperation of searching on our last day was showing BIG TIME.
This leads to my biggest piece of advice I want to share with everyone I can reach: don’t expect your hand-knotted Moroccan rug to be cheap. If you’ve heard you can get an 8×10 rug for $300 USD, I’m sorry. That person who told you that set unrealistic expectations.
Will you get the rug for less than you’d pay for a similar rug here? Yes. Will you get it for cheaper than you’d get a machine-made rug in the US? No.
Ask For a Breakdown Of Costs
Many rug dealers will include shipping in the cost. It’s great that they offer this because it was one of my biggest question marks before heading to Morocco. And at the same time, it can be deceiving. Asking them to break out the shipping and rug cost will help you better determine your tolerance for the price (and how much they’re baking in for shipping).
If you’re only buying one or two you may be able to carry them back in an extra suitcase. They roll them tight like sushi, so this makes knowing the actual price of the rug even more important as checking an extra bag is still going to be cheaper than shipping it. Shipping costs are unreal right now.
You probably understand this by now, but shopping in Morocco is quite different than shopping in the U.S. You won’t get an individual price for items until you’ve picked out everything you’re interested in. Sellers are motivated to get you to buy as much as possible, so they’ll negotiate the lot at large, rather than quote you individual pieces as you pick them out.
You can always say you’re not interested in a piece, but it’s best to only pull those you’re seriously interested in before you get down to numbers. And, of course, the more you buy, the better deal you’ll get.
What I Wish I Knew When Rug Shopping For The First Time
- Shopping in the medina will always be more expensive than a warehouse or seller outside of Marrakech. If you’re thinking of buying at a resort or hotel, just don’t. And if you found a rug shop on Instagram, consider that one of highest price options you have. One thing we’ve found as we’ve traveled is that you can’t equate quality with digital presence. If a place is Instagram famous, its prices probably are too.
- Don’t fall for the women’s co-op line. Rug dealers will often negotiate by talking about how long it took the women to weave the rug in front of you. And, yes, this part is true. But what they’re leaving out is that weavers are paid a fee, not a commission. If you spend more, it’s not going back to the woman who put her work into your piece; it’s staying with the dealer.
- Be realistic with what will match your decor. As I mentioned before, it’s easy to fall in love with a vivid design. But if it doesn’t match your existing space you may get home wondering what that mint tea was spiked with. In the land of colors, it’s even more important to refer back to what home looks like. I’m all for pushing boundaries, but staying within a color palette or tone will prevent any feelings of regret.
- Bring a tape measure. Marrakech measures rugs in meters and trying to Google meters to inches/feet adds complexity to an already new situation. I wish we packed a tape measure to easily gain an estimation of each rug as we saw them.
- Ask for the type of rug and how to care for it. We were buying in bulk and I didn’t think to ask what type of rug each we purchased was. Simply calling a Moroccan rug a Berber rug isn’t so accurate. “Berber” refers to an ethnic group and there are multiple varieties that this group produces.
- Pay with a credit card. We’ve never had any trouble with a rug going missing, but when you pay with a credit card you have the peace of mind that if your rug doesn’t arrive you can dispute the charge. A cash transaction leaves you with little other than a tracking number.
- Take pictures of every rug you purchase. This is important not just to inventory what arrives, but also remind yourself of what you purchased. I’ve said it before: it’s a dizzying experience and can be easy to forget what you’ve purchased, so having photographic evidence to refer back to is a must.
This is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had while traveling. Every time I look down at the rug in my kitchen I’m stopped in my tracks with a little hit of joy. You can’t say that for many souvenirs you bring home.