10 Tips for Haggling in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (and most other markets)

Istanbul, Turkey is home to one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The Grand Bazaar, first opened in 1461, currently receives around 250,000 – 500,000 visitors daily. The vast majority of these shoppers are tourists, and most of them end up paying too much for their souvenirs. The Grand Bazaar is home to hundreds of multilingual expert salesmen who are determined to sell you their wares. Many of these salesmen have an array of witty greetings and one-liners, and are in general pretty entertaining people. They all want to be more compelling and inviting than the next guy. But don’t be charmed into paying full price. In this competitive marketplace, most sellers are willing to give you their goods for 50% or even 30% of the original quoted price. That is, if you have the skill and patience to haggle.

This type of negotiating can feel like a stressful conflict to some or a fun challenge to others. Regardless of your comfort level with haggling, there are a few simple strategies and rules of thumb that will save you some serious Turkish Lira.

10 Tips for Haggling in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

1. Don’t seem too interested. These shopkeepers are keen people-readers. If you’re telling your friend that this is “the perfect gift for Sally” and that you “have to get it,” you’re going to get charged full tourist price or maybe even a little more. And once the cat’s out of the bag there’s little hope of talking it down.

2. Be prepared to devote some time to bargaining. If you really want something for the best price, be prepared to spend some time negotiating. Think of it as making money per minute. If it’s worth it to you, the longer you haggle, the lower the price will go. Some of this time can even be spent in silence. If you’re looking at a product trying to decide if its worth it, they might pick up on this and offer you a lower price before you even have to say anything.

3. If you know what it’s worth to you, make the first offer. This can be difficult sometimes, but if you know how much an item is worth to you, make an offer and you might get it. It would be a good idea to ask about 10-20% less than the ideal price so they have some room to negotiate higher. If you get it for what you think it’s worth and the salesmen is willing to sell it at that price, everybody wins.

4. Don’t feel bad. People often feel guilty about getting a lower price at the shopkeeper’s expense. This idea of haggling is foreign to most Americans but this is very common in other cultures – so don’t feel bad! I’ve heard some salesmen bring up their children and families while you’re looking at an item or beginning to haggle, but like their one-liners, this is a ploy to get you to pay more than the item is worth. Don’t forget: most of the shopkeepers will quote you a higher price just because you’re a tourist and they expect you to pay too much. So if they start to pull at your heartstrings, ignore it and remember that they already have a nice cushion built into the original asking price.

5. Don’t be afraid to walk away. This is one of the best tactics. You can get some of the biggest price reductions as you begin to leave the store without buying anything. And if they let you walk away, keep going, chances are you can find the same thing in three other stores before you leave. If you must come back to the same place, try telling the shopkeeper that you’ll buy it for the price they quoted you earlier, shaving off a few dollars. Though some super-salesmen may remember the exact price they last quoted you, this might work if it’s been a little while since the first negotiation.

6. Be nice. Salesmen are people too, even if they sell products for more than they’re worth. As the old saying goes, “honey gets you further than vinegar.” It can depend on the salesman, but in general a good attitude and friendly demeanor can save you more money than being pushy and looking at the situation as if you’ve already been cheated out of your last dollar. Give them a compliment on the store, ask how business is doing, tell them you love their country/music/food, or find some kind of common ground. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t be an asshole either. I’ve learned a lot through some great conversations with shopkeepers and still ended up getting a good deal. And if you hang around and say some nice words and/or suggest purchases to other customers, you can even get a little “reward discount.”

7. Buy in bulk. You can get a bigger discount if you buy more items. This is an easier way to haggle and most shopkeepers are willing to cut you a deal if you buy more than one item. Depending on the product, try asking for half off on the second if you buy two. Better yet, negotiate a lower price on one item alone, then ask for an even lower price on the second if you buy two. This works even better as the number of items goes up. Buy 10 “hand-painted” bowls and you can probably get them for about 30% of the original price.

8. The old, “he’s selling it for this much over there.” Most of these kinds of shops have the same things in them, so use this to your advantage. Tell a shop owner that you saw the same item for a lower price somewhere else and he’s likely to match it or beat it. But don’t get too crazy. Most of the salesmen know the minimum price that any other shop will sell something for – give them an insulting low-ball and you’ll be back where you started.

9. Show me the money! A good last-ditch effort for getting something at the price you want: show them the money. Pull out your wallet and give them the money you would want to buy the item for. Literally try to put it in their hand. More often than not, they’ll take it. To quote another old saying, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Most of these salesmen would agree. The promise of a sale right then and there beats the risk of losing the sale altogether by continuing to insist on a higher price.

10. Know what you’re buying. The Grand Bazaar and other marketplaces like it have an array of merchandise that range from garbage to high quality. If you’re paying high dollar – know the difference. It’s too easy to get ripped off on expensive items, so if you’re buying silver, know something about identifying silver. If you’re getting a counterfeit Rolex, know that it will break within about six hours, and pay accordingly. In a big marketplace with much congestion and little accountability, be sure that you get what you pay for. A good deal can be seductive, so be weary of “too good to be true” prices. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Know any other good tips on how to haggle? Tell us! Leave a comment and help out your fellow market shoppers!

3 Comments

  1. I agree on being nice, so many people are rude to these guys when they’re bargaining. A friend of mine had a shop in Morocco and I can say they’re not all out to get you

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  2. Great list! Wish I had read some of these before I visited Turkey in 2008

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  3. I never liked haggling much but this makes me want to go try again :)

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10 Tips for Haggling in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (and most other markets)