In September 2006, Stephanie and I traveled to Istanbul for the first leg of our honeymoon. We knew in advance that we would buy a Turkish carpet, but had zero experience about how the process works or how much to pay. I’ve written up our experience in hopes that it will help someone else.
Picking the Right Shop
Since you are going to be dropping several hundred to several thousand dollars on a rug, I recommend picking out a nice shop that is 100% dedicated to selling rugs. There are many, many stalls and souvenir shops around the city and in the Grand Bazaar that sell some combination of art, jewelry, rugs, spices, sculptures, and clothing. I am sure there are some fantastic deals in these shops, but I never felt confident that I was getting a high quality rug and the selection was never great. We probably paid more by focusing on the nicer shops, but it was worth it to know that we were going to get a quality product. I recommend Bazaar 55 in Sultanahmet, where we purchased our rug.
For most people, the purchasing process will be uncomfortable, as it will involve a lot of pressure and haggling. If you have committed to buying a rug, though, take a deep breath and try to enjoy it.
Once inside the showroom, you will be offered coffee, tea, water, or something else to drink. If you are going to stick around for more than a couple of minutes, you should accept, even if you don’t really want anything. The beverage ritual is a huge part of the experience; it is the Turkish way of welcoming you to their store and making you feel comfortable. We resisted at first, not wanting to put them out, but we quickly realized that the offer was not really optional and to continue to say no would be considered rude. I ended up drinking several glasses of apple tea and water throughout the experience.
As you are sipping your tea, they will begin unrolling several dozen rugs of all shapes and sizes. Don’t be shy about expressing your preference for size, material, or color; there are hundreds of rugs and it will help them narrow down the selection. And don’t feel bad about how many rugs they unroll, it really is the only way to see them. Let the salesman know which rugs catch your eye and he will clear out the rest and put those side-by-side.
At this point, you are full of tea, surrounded by a hundred unrolled rugs, and faced with 3-5 that you really like. Psychologically, it will be very hard for you to leave the store, and that’s really the whole point of the ritual so far. If you truly do not see anything that you like, don’t feel guilty about politely thanking them for their time and heading for the door. At the end of the day, it is your money and you have to be happy with your selection. Don’t buy anything out of guilt.
If you do see a carpet that you like, it is probably in your best interest to move forward with the negotiation and making the purchase. Your vacation time is valuable and unless you love haggling, you won’t want to go through this process more than a few times during your trip.
To get the process started, it’s a simple as asking “How much?” The salesman will flip over a corner of the rug, inspect the tag, and give you a price. The price usually isn’t written down; he’s just getting size and material information from the tag and setting the upper price. You could accept this price and be done with it, but you are most likely paying a huge premium just because you are uncomfortable with haggling. You are honoring a centuries-old tradition of haggling by rejecting this price and moving to the next step.
Now that you’ve got the upper bound, you have two options: counter with a much lower price or just act coy and uncertain about the purchase. The first option is more direct and will close the deal faster, but you are guaranteed of never going lower than what you offered. We took the second approach and expressed hesitancy for the next half hour. It went something like this:
This is a beautiful rug and obviously high quality, but…
- this is the first shop we have visited and would like to see more options
- this is the first day of our trip and it is too soon to make this purchase
- we are uncertain about the color / size
- this is a substantial purchase and we will need time to think it over
- it is lunchtime and we can’t make this decision on an empty stomach
- we’d like to take a walk around the block and discuss the purchase privately
Take your time. Enjoy another cup of tea while looking skeptically at the rug. You may want to feign an exit once or twice. As this goes on, the price will continue to drop. Always be polite; as soon as you lose your cool, you lose your bargaining power and will come off as rude and disrespectful.
How Much Should I Pay?
There is no right answer to this question because the price is completely subjective. I guarantee you that the material, labor, and overhead costs for the rug are far lower than your lowest imagined price and you are never going to get close to the actual cost. Ultimately, you should look to the future; think about that rug in your home and the enjoyment that you will get from seeing it there and remembering the trip. What sum of money are you comfortable parting with today for that future happiness?
As you drive down the price by acting skeptical and attempting to exit, you will eventually reach a point where the price stops dropping and it seems like they might actually let you leave the store. This is a sign that you’ve probably hit bottom and won’t get any lower. If the price is equal to or less than the figure you’ve set in your head, then the rug is a good deal for you and you should make the purchase. Sure, you are paying way more than the actual cost, but you have to stay focused on your own concept of value and happiness. Just remember, you would have paid way more for the same rug at Macy’s and the experience is completely different.
Some figures from our purchase that may help you: we settled on a 5’x6′ wool rug for $1,000, which was approximately 40% lower than the initial quote. Maybe we got ripped off, but we love seeing that rug every day and have never regretted the money we spent on it. And that makes it a good deal for us, which is all that matters in the end.
One comment about shipping: if the rug you select is about the same size as ours or smaller, it’s possible to save up to $300 in shipping costs if you’re willing to get it back home as checked or carry-on luggage. That decision depends on how much traveling you have ahead of you and how much extra weight you can tolerate.