On Thursday I experienced a marché (market) in Dakar for the first time. It was interesting to say the very least…
One of the first things we were taught in our class was how to bargain in both Wolof and in French, it wasn’t until I arrived to Dakar Plateau, one of the areas with many market that I realized how valuable this was going to be. A tour had been arranged for us so that we were split in groups of 3 students (2 females and 1 male) with a male tour guide; this was so we’d look like paired couples and wouldn’t be bothered as much by men downtown. The tour was provided by Senegalese mean so we wouldn’t be so overwhelmed at our first visit to the market…another thing I didn’t realize was important until we arrived downtown.
How the market works:
The moment you start looking inside any store/stand the people working it are asking you to enter. When you enter you greet and speak for a little and this is the vendors way of feeling the customers out; they can immediately tell where you’re from, what language you speak, etc. and this will most likely determine your starting bargain price. It helps to introduce yourself with your Senegalese name because they can identify your ethnic group which can help with these bargaining prices. At first glance anyone of fairer skin they believe to be European, the moment you begin speaking French and indicate you don’t know Wolof you’ve assured them that that’s the case. However, you cannot allow that to intimidate you, you need to walk in with all the confidence in the world and act like you know exactly what you’re doing.
Shopping at the market is like a game, you need to be willing to negotiate with the vendors and walk away if you want a good price. It gets extremely overwhelming, which led me to almost giving up (turns out that got me the best deal). The vendors first start off by attempting to get you to buy things in pack, it’s very difficult to go anywhere and just purchase one thing. They always try to push a packaged deal or convince you that your family members need things too; I learned it comes out more beneficial to go with packaged deals. Then once they’ve gotten you to look at and choose several things they give you an absurd price (when I say they I mean every vendor working at that location which can be up to 5 people all at once). Then you have to inform them it’s way too expensive and cut the price at least in half, you have to start with an even lower price than you’re willing to pay so that you have some wiggle room to go up while bargaining.
Of course those who speak Wolof bargain best, then the French and then others so our Senegalese tour guide helped me bargain my items. I had 2 shirts and 2 dresses for my nephews and niece. The starting price was 32,500 which my tour guide said was absurd; as he spoke to the guy after bargaining the prices for them items the other 2 students in our group got the man brought it down to 20,000 CFA. I still knew that was too expensive and with all the talking (which felt like yelling to me but that’s just how Senegalese tend to speak to one another) and the hunger I felt I was ready to go. As I started walking out one of the vendors informed me to hold on, that they were bargaining that that’s what the Senegalese do and walked me back into the store. While this is going on there’s also a vendor from a different location in the store trying to sell me a wooden turtle souvenir and knocking down the price (I never even showed interest in this item) I made sure to show little interest in my items like Madame Ba had advised and got the price down to 15,000. I decided that still was too expensive and walked out the store to look elsewhere. As I was looking around at first I thought it was over and I wasn’t getting my items but the man came back outside after me and whispered in my ear that for me it would be 10,000CFA. I rummaged through my bag a bit but was so fed up I said it was fine and continued to walk out. A minute later the man comes outside with another vendor and tells me that for me he will give it to me for 8000CFA, 4 great buys for just a bit under $15 sounded like a great buy to me and I was sold. Although not all my bargaining was intentional it did teach me that walking away in Senegal is the best way to get the prices you want, it might be a bit frustrating and sure does take a lot of patience but it can lead to great deals.
Tips for Bargaining
1. Greet in Wolof or French
2. Introduce yourself with your Senegalese name
3. Buy in packs
4. Show little interest in the items you want
5. Do not ask the price if you aren’t committed to buying it
6. Cut the quoted price at least in half
7. Allow yourself wiggle room with your starting price (if you don’t budge vendors won’t budge)
8. Be patient
9. Do not be afraid to walk away!