How to Bargain Like a Pro in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Elsewhere

Picture inside the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.

by Erlend Geerts

in Practical Information, Shopping

The Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world housing over 3000 shops, is more than just a sightseeing spot. Ever since the 15th century, it has been bustling with activity. Every day locals and visitors are haggling to get the best bang for their buck. Here are some valuable bargaining tips for the Grand Bazaar and other shops around Istanbul.

Notice How Similar Shops Stand Side by Side in Istanbul

After you spent a few days walking around in Istanbul, you’ll notice streets or even areas where all shops seem to sell similar items. At Taksim Square you find a string of döner shops, in Galata a street full of musical instrument shops, in Karaköy nothing but DIY tools, etc.

For Westerners this defies all commercial logic. Why would you want to drive competition to the max? But in Turkey they look at it from a different angle. If someone is in the market for let’s say a musical instrument, they know what area or street to go to. As a shop owner or sales person, it’s your job to lure in the customer.

The Grand Bazaar follows the same logic, on an even bigger scale. As we’ll see later, this gives you as a potential buyer a nice advantage.

Seller at Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.

Seller at Grand Bazaar.

The Seller Has the Upper Hand … At First

Shops in the Grand Bazaar offer both high quality products and, politely put, lesser quality items. The sales person of course knows the quality of every item, what it costs to have it made, and how much profit he can put in his pocket. Chances are you have no clue. At best you know a few tricks to check whether it’s genuine leather, a real hand-made carpet, or an authentic diamond.

Good Timing

It’s unlikely you will deal with the shop owner in the Grand Bazaar. The person attending you is most likely a salesperson working for him. This means that he has to sell a certain amount of goods to reach his daily quota. While reaching his quota is a must, he also receives a commission on what he sells.

Therefore, at the start of the day he’ll be eager to sell. Even at a lower price, earning little or no commission, just to make sure he reaches his daily quota. After a few hours, he may have reached his quota. At this point, the focus will shift from just selling to please his boss, to selling to make a nice commission.

This doesn’t mean you have to wait in front of the shop for the doors to open. Besides looking too eager, you won’t strike a bargain until the salesman has finished a few teas to get the day going. In my experience, between 11:00 and 13:00 is a good time to strike a deal.

Never Look Too Interested

“Welcome my friend. How are you?”, is a line you’ll hear a multitude of times while browsing the Grand Bazaar. In almost every language on the globe. It’s their way of touching base and get you to have a look around their shop.

If you’re looking for an item they have, by all means, enter the shop and look around. Once you see something you like, don’t stop there. Just check out some more pieces and make a mental inventory of what the shop has to offer. At the same time, it prevents you from showing you’re eager to buy a certain item. Only once you’re ready to start bargaining, you take the item you like and casually ask what the price is.

Bargaining at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.

Bargaining at the Grand Bazaar.

Don’t Name Your Best Price

At this stage he’ll try to make you value the product by asking what would be your best price. Never fall for this trick. Once you put a price on it, that’s it: you will never be able to go under it.

Instead, make him take the first step and put the opening bid of the bargaining process. Of course, you should look surprised and find the price outrageous. And that’s where the first part of this article kicks in. Put down the product, don’t look at any other product (you already know what’s in the store), slowly start walking towards the door while looking at the items of the shop across, which happens to sell similar items. If he buys your bluff, he’ll be quick to make a new offer. Let the real bargaining begin!

Tea Time

Slow and steady wins the race. Never rush the bargaining process. It’s important to keep on sending signals that you’re not sure you really need to buy the product, let alone at the price he’s offering it for. His urge to sell should always be higher than yours to buy.

It’s not uncommon that they will offer you tea. The reason for this is two-fold. First of all, they serve it in a corner of the store, where other potential customers can’t eavesdrop. They don’t want other people to hear the discount he eventually may agree on with you. Secondly, he may seemingly give the bargaining a break and get a bit more personal. To make you put your guard down, and at the same time create some sympathy for the situation he’s in (at home).

Don’t buy a word from it. His child will still be able to go to college if he drops the price a bit more. At the end of the day, he is not obliged to sell.

So, keep on playing the game, uttering ‘ahs’, ‘mmmms’, and ‘uuhms’ until you reach a price that seems right for both parties.

What Kind of Discount Should You Aim For?

Well, there is no golden rule. In some cases the bottom line will be a 35% discount, in other cases it can be well over 50%. Don’t ask in the comments either, I can’t and won’t advise you on that. There is also no guarantee this strategy will work every time. It’s just one I have had success with. Practice makes perfect I guess.

As a last tip, getting angry or becoming rude will not help your bargaining, on the contrary. Stay calm, and don’t lose your smile. In the end it’s just a game.

Happy bargaining and good luck.

Photo Sources [1] [2] [3]

What's Next

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue October 1, 2014 at 9:30 am

This is the funniest article I ever read. I love it. I am heading to the Bazaar today and I will take your advice religiously.

Reply

Erlend Geerts October 1, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Glad you liked it Sue. Let me know how it went.

Reply

Priit October 8, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Reading these suggestions after just being in Grand Bazaar It seems I was acting pretty much in a same way – early morning, just walking like spending some time etc. I got a price comfortable for me (ca 40% down) without too much haggling and everybody felt like a winner. Good advice!

Reply

hassan abbas October 21, 2014 at 10:46 am

i am going to visit istanbul only for 03 days in asia city hotal , kindly could you suggest good places and route from seeing sites .
thanks , and about the weather in november first week 2014

Reply

Erlend Geerts October 21, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Hi Hassan,

You may have noticed we never make hotel recommendations here, for the obvious reasons.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

Charitha Mandappa January 3, 2015 at 12:34 am

I absolutely loved the read. I am gonna try this trick for sure :-). Thanks Erkend.

Reply

Tito January 7, 2015 at 11:03 am

what time does the market open and close?

Is it open every day? Sunday through Saturday?

Reply

Erlend Geerts January 8, 2015 at 8:39 am

Hi Tito,

It’s open every day from 09:00 till 19:00, but it’s closed on Sundays.

Kind regards,
Erlend

Reply

Lynn January 14, 2015 at 4:24 am

Erlend, I hope Turkey has a national award waiting for you. I’ve spend hours now on your site, absorbing your helpful tips.

May I add one to your negotiating tip sheet?

Go with a friend. Figure out who will be the softie and who is the tough nut. The softie gets to be interested – somewhat interested, anyway (bearing in mind your good advice never to show too much interest.) Softie wants the object, Toughie’s job is to speak to Softie, saying the reasons (real and invented) NOT to by the object. Or why not to buy it here. Or not now. Or hang on till the end of your holiday. And what about the college fund for Softie’s kids? etc., etc. Some but not all of the earnest discussion between Softie and Toughie should be very quiet so that the merchant can’t hear. He can’t argue with what he can’t hear! and he doesn’t need to know you’re coaching each other rather than discussing his darn merchandise.

Softie can afford to look back yearningly as you both walk out the door empty-handed because you haven’t got your price. And Softie can afford to smile at the merchant (Toughie at your side) as you circle his stall past again. Chances are he’ll reach out and grab you, and you’ll find out his bottom line.

My spouse and I have used this to great effect, both in Turkey and here at home buying cars and – gulp – Turkish carpets. I don’t say we’ve gotten better deals than other people, but it re-balances the dynamics and shortens the process a lot.

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Karen February 17, 2015 at 7:45 am

I read this article before heading out to the Grand Bazaar. It was a big help. I managed to get everything down significantly but keeping your pointers in mind.

Ladies Bag 380L down to 120L
3 Boys Sheepkin Vests 450L to 250L
Leather Ottoman Cushion Cover 60L to 40L
Mens Leather Gloves 120L to 70L

When you realise there are plenty of other stalls the same it give you the power to walk away. I am not sure if these prices are considered a bargain in Turkey, but we were happy – I think thats important. Especially when you say don’t obsess about getting the BEST price ever.

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