Nobody leaves Marrakech without buying something. Although some particular crafts are better procured elsewhere -- ceramics from Fes and silver jewelry from Tiznit -- most travelers come here to make their purchases. Almost every form of Moroccan arts and crafts can be found among Marrakech's labyrinth of shops. Leatherwork, brassware, and copperware are traditionally of high quality and reasonable cost in Marrakech, but there's so much of everything here that it's easy to suffer from souk overload. An initial visit to the Ensemble Artisanal, on avenue Mohammed V between Jemaa el Fna and Bab Nkob (tel. 0524/443503), can help to overcome this. Here, you can see skilled craftsmen and women at work and browse among the many items for sale without the pressure that you may encounter in the souks. Unlike the medina's shops and souks, the prices here are more or less fixed, although slightly higher. The atmosphere here is usually very relaxed, almost calming, and there's a small cafe should you wish to sit awhile. If anything, coming here before you begin your serious souk shopping gives you an idea of the maximum you should pay and, just as importantly, what to look for in terms of quality and workmanship.
Outside the medina's walls in Guéliz, along avenue Mohammed V, you'll find some chic boutiques offering the latest in European fashion, leatherware, and beauty products. The tree-lined west end of Rue de la Liberté also offers an enticing assortment of quality shops, purveying everything from unique homewares and African-Oriental antiques and objets d'art to a traditional tapis (carpet) dealer and a Belgian chocolatier. For fresh produce, groceries, toiletries, and alcohol, Acima supermarket, on the corner of avenues Mohammed V and Abdelkarim el Khattabi (tel. 0524/430453), is open daily from 9am to 10pm. Farther along avenue Abdelkarim el Khattabi is the Western-style, air-conditioned Marjane Hypermarket (tel. 0524/313724). Open daily from 9am to 9pm, it sells everything from groceries and general foodstuffs (including bacon) to cookware and computers. There's also a well-stocked liquor store here that stays open for non-Muslims during Ramadan, as well as a bank with an ATM, a McDonald's, and a photo store. They also have a second store on the outskirts of the city on the Marrakech-Essaouira road with the same hours.
If you are intimidated by shopping in the medina, think about hiring an official guide for half a day. All of my recommended Marrakech accommodations will be able to organize an English-speaking guide for you. Although he (I have unfortunately yet to meet a female guide in Morocco) may direct you into shops where he will earn commission from your purchases, remember that if you don't buy, he won't earn, so he is playing for both sides, so to speak, which can ultimately be to your benefit. Although bartering is considered compulsory practice, don't get too hung up on it. Before you begin, ask yourself how much you'd like to pay for the item. Keep that figure in mind if you start feeling pressured to pay far more than you had planned, although check yourself if you find you're haggling over a difference in price that, when converted back to your native currency, is relatively small and not worth the stress. Remember, you can always walk away. Take no notice of the shopkeeper's bleeding heart story or over-the-top displays of frustration and temper. Make your purchase a happy memory.
Caution: As in other parts of Morocco, it's best not to rely on being able to use your credit card when shopping. Some shopkeepers, especially the carpet emporiums, will have the necessary equipment, but when paying for smaller purchases, cash -- usually dirham but sometimes euros or dollars -- will be the only form of payment accepted. If you are using your credit card, be aware of the full amount being charged to your card prior to signing off the transaction. Some shopkeepers will record the purchase amount in dirham, so be aware of the current exchange rates. I recently heard from one traveler who was assured by the shopkeeper that she could pay with her credit card over six monthly installments and signed six separate transaction slips, only to find out a few days -- and many miles -- later that the shopkeeper had processed all six payments simultaneously; there was no credit left on her account.
The benefits of argan oil (produced from trees exclusive to southwest Morocco) are only beginning to be known in the Western world, but you can get a jump on everyone at two new shops in the medina. Tip: If you are anywhere near the Acima or Marjane supermarkets, have a look at their argan oil and spice collection. Although obviously lacking the medina shopping atmosphere, you are very likely to find the same products at a fraction of the price.
Spices & Herboristes
Stalls and small shops within the medina selling spices can be instantly recognized by the tall, cone-shape mounds of red (paprika), yellow (turmeric), and green (henna) on display at their entrances. Spices are an essential item in everyday Moroccan cooking, so their availability is widespread and therefore not as exhilarating of a shopping experience. Prices should be fixed (around 20dh per 100g/ 1/4 lb. for any standard spice) and the transaction swift, though in the more touristy areas of the medina, the shopkeeper may attempt to fleece you.
Providing far more entertainment are the medina's Berber chemists, or herboristes, who display animal skins, dried herbs, and caged tortoises at their entrances. Generally open every day from 9am to 7pm, they also sell spices, including a mixture of 35 different varieties known as ras el hanout. However, they specialize in herbal medicines and oils. Constipation, diabetes, weight loss, depression, bladder, liver or skin problems, and impotence are just some of the ailments that can be miraculously "cured" with the concoctions that are paraded in front of you. A good herboriste is a pharmacist, salesman, and entertainer all in one.
Souk Zrabia -- You can't beat this place for pure selection. Inside this covered souk are up to a dozen shops selling every shape, size, and color carpet, rug, and kélim (tapestry-woven rug usually with a Turkish design) available. The pressure to buy can be quite intense, but if you truly wish to purchase, this is the place. Prices vary greatly due to the quality of both craftsmanship and negotiation, but small kélims can go for as little as 1,000dh; medium Berber rugs (2*2m/6 1/2*6 1/2 ft.) for 5,000dh; and a 4X4m (13*13 ft.) reversible carpet can sell for 32,000dh.