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Turkish Carpets

We were in Turkey and we were intending on buying a carpet. We had been told that on the Rick Steves Tour that there would be a carpet factory that sold carpets at a reasonable mark up. It was supposed to be a co-op in Goreme that was started just to provide jobs to locals and keep them in the area. Maybe that was true but I have my doubts. When we were in Istanbul we met a Turkish American. He was from my college town so I know he was legit. He told us he was in the carpet business and that he traveled to Turkey a few times a year to buy carpets. He suggested that if we buy in Turkey to buy in Istanbul and gave some tips. He wasn't offering to sell us and was just giving advice on how to do it. We didn't listen because we were planning on buying in Goreme since it sounded like a good deal. We were told that you could negotiate but since the carpets didn't have much of a markup at most you might get 10% off the asking price. One person that bought in Istanbul with the help of a friend in the business said that the Goreme carpets appeared to be very expensive. Another person in our group negotiated more than a 50% discount before he gave up. My wife was ready to buy but she only liked one pattern. The guy at the factory said that my wife had good taste and that such a carpet would cost at least $18,000. She told him that she was looking for something more in the $5,000 range. The guy advised us to "go to Walmart". I'm convinced that tourists are at a disadvantage in Turkey. My wife and I decided that we would probably buy a Turkish carpet in the U.S. and tell our friends we got it in Turkey. 😀

Posted by
3946 posts

Carpets bought in Turkey and Turkish or other nationality handmade carpets bought here in the UK vary hugely depending on the size, complexity of the pattern, the density of the stitching and the quality of the wool/silk. Is the wool hand-dyed using natural plants or is it machine produced using synthetic dyes? All impact on the price. Some large carpets take months to make.

Why are tourists at a disadvantage - because you weren't prepared to pay their prices? They have a bottom line that. they are prepared to sell at and if they let you walk away, then you were offering too low a price. By the time you paid import taxes and shipping, it may not work out much cheaper than buying at home.

Why lie and say you bought it in Turkey? They can't be good friends if you are prepared to lie to them.

Posted by
3904 posts

My wife and I decided that we would probably buy a Turkish carpet in the U.S. and tell our friends we got it in Turkey.

Why? What an odd thing to do. That's like me telling my friends I bought my VW in Germany instead of from my local dealer.

Unless there's an interesting story to accompany your purchase does it matter where you bought it?

Posted by
6537 posts

The difference between a Turkish rug salesman and a car salesman is that the car salesman is more honest. Few customers that go to Turkey (or any other fine rug store) have enough knowledge of the business to really make an informed buying decision.
We found a rug we really liked in Turkey, and we negotiated a substantial discount before purchasing it. Then the store shipped it in a container with hundreds of other rugs to a rug wholesale operation in Atlanta for distribution. They actually delivered the rug to us.
When we got the rug into our dining room, it was slightly too small. But they had a comparable rug in the same family of tribal design that did fit better, and we traded on the spot.
We've since bought another slightly nicer and slightly larger rug for our living room, but we're stopping at that.

Our friendly Turkish rug salesman came the other week, as he was in The States for a month peddling rugs. He brought out a silk rug that was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen--$30K. I don't think I'm in the market for such a piece of art.
We're now in the process of downsizing slightly and moving an hour away. Very few homes now have separate living and dining rooms, and millennials are just into big overstuffed leather furniture and neutral walls without color. We love our rugs, but most families of the future are not likely to appreciate their beauty and the labor that's been put into weaving them. They're certainly not something to invest in.

Posted by
242 posts

I think that while there's a lot of romance to buying something while in the country, sometimes it just makes more sense to wait until you get home; no need to say you picked it out in Turkey!

I'm planning on doing something similar with a Moroccan rug. I absolutely loved seeing the patterns and colors, but not being knowledgeable, it is intimidating to pick something out and know what an appropriate price is. Rugs can take an incredible amount of work, and so it's normal for them to be pricey, but of course no one wants to pay way more than the "fair" price either! I'm keeping an eye out on a site where cooperatives work directly with a non-profit to sell their rugs; I like that I was able to do the research and that they offer shipping included in the prices. It looks like there are a number of sites that also specialize in Turkish carpets. In a way, buying from home is much more relaxing!

Also, David, I have to defend myself in honor of the millennials! You are 100% right on the wall colors, I laughed when I read that. I'm ready for grey walls to go out of style (except then I'll have to repaint my living room!). I was scratching my head on the furniture though - at least in my general group it seems like we're all about not-very-comfy sofas inspired by mid-century design. And a lot of millennials are super into rugs, including Turkish ones, but very specific designs - basically, if it looks like West Elm, a lot of us are probably fans!

Posted by
55 posts

I was joking Jennifer. I don’t lie to anyone. Basically I’m not into bragging about where my rugs are from anyway. I think the real story of haggling with rug pirates and escaping with my riches intact is much more interesting. We have a few carpets in our house, Persian, Pakistan, Indian, Wayfair, etc. All bought in the US at reasonably outrageous prices. They are nice but really they are just rugs. My point was that I think the tourists are at a disadvantage. Before traveling to Turkey I watched a lot of videos on buying Turkish carpets. After being in Turkey I think the best video was one from a rug expert who said not to buy in Turkey because if you weren’t an expert or didn’t have an in somehow you were certainly going to pay too much. Our experience in Goreme reinforced that notion.

Posted by
6065 posts

My point was that I think the tourists are at a disadvantage.

I don't think it's solely tourists per se (although they seem to be the biggest suckers and less price sensitive while on vacation), but more precisely potential buyers who are 1) not knowledgeable about value and quality of carpets and how to price them, 2) don't understand the culture of haggling or are not immersed in either Turkish norms or haggling norms, and 3) don't know the Turkish language. There is a huge variation in pricing, quality, and worksmanship for any kind of art or unique products, including carpets. The buyers need to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and have enough cultural understanding to operate comfortably. Being ripped off would be no different if you were using a middleman vs. a direct sale, unless you really trusted the middleman to act as your agent and trust him not to exact an unfair cut from the sale.

I can't even imagine, given the exchange rate, what even a 2k carpet would mean for a poor villager in Turkey. A lot of Lira indeed. And they price by willingness to pay and an assumption that tourists are "rich" (because they certainly are relatively rich compared to the carpet weavers).

Posted by
55 posts

Agnes,
You are probably right but I think tourists are especially at a disadvantage because they are more eager to buy when on vacation. I knew we were getting the hard sell but it was so tempting. I probably would have been ok with my wife buying the $18,000 rug when we were there but I know I would have regretted it when we got home. Fortunately I have a wife that is more level-headed than me. A souvenir is great but the real reason we travel is the experience of it. We really loved Turkey and the friends we made on the trip.

Posted by
894 posts

And the pizza lunch served was not good!
Some of the old carpets were beautiful though.

Posted by
686 posts

I will add my experience. I went on RS tour earlier this month. I wanted to buy a small rug as a memento. I bought a rug for myself and one for my son in Istanbul and then I bought another small rug for my mother in Goreme.

I think that it is important before making any purchase (more so the higher the cost) one should be as informed a consumer as possible. All in all I am happy with my purchases. I have priced rugs since I have been home and I found that similar rugs are 0 to 20% more than what I paid plus shipping costs.

I found the salesmen in Goreme to be appropriately friendly and not that pushy. My son was very interested in some beautiful silk on silk rugs that were above his budget. He told the salesman what his top price was and there was a thank you and a hand-shake and a pleasant conversation.

I did not feel that I was at a disadvantage.
Jim, if you find a rug similar to the one your wife liked at $18,000 here in the US for much less, please let us know.

And, I agree, the pide pizza was not good. But I enjoyed the chai.

Posted by
13904 posts

I was on the RS tour 6 years ago. I had no intention to do any shopping, just pick up a souvenir or two. During the "show" at the carpet factory I started thinking about it, since I needed to replace the one in my living room. I ended up buying a wool carpet, 2x3 meters. I agreed to a price of $2000 when it seemed that bargaining was at an end. I remember the starting price was upwards of $3000. They had me sign the back of the rug so I'd be sure that what I got was exactly what I'd chosen. The carpet arrived at my front door by Fedex about 3 weeks after I got home. A few months later, I had an insurance appraisal and the appraiser told me I had a real bargain, the carpet was easily worth 2 or 3 times what I'd paid for it. BTW the price included all shipping, handling, customs and delivery charges. I love the carpet and have never regretted the purchase for even a fleeting moment. There were another 4-5 people on the tour who also bought carpets and/or kilim.

Posted by
7 posts

The "co-op" in Goreme, as far as I'm concerned, was the only negative experience I encountered in Turkey. Quite frankly, I highly doubt the carpet factory/shop was a co-op. Personally, I believe it was a heatwarming story (or tactic) to encourage toursits to buy their carpets. My wife and I were on the same tour as the OP, Jim, and his wife. We too were interested in purchasing a small silk-on-silk carpet (1001 nights) as a souvenir to hang on the wall. The original quote from the first salesman was $5500. 20 minutes later, our tour guide talked to the manager, and he agreed to $4400, but the tour guide told me to offer him $4000. I decided to talk to a different salesman, and 20 minutes later that third salesman approached me and said $3600. In fact, this exchange took place in the presence of other tour members. When I told the guide about the lastest price, she went to confront the third salesman, and after a heated exchange, the third salesman denied offering that price. Thankfully, I was standing with 3 other people who heard the exchange. The manager with the Australian accent followed me outside, and in a more private conversation offered to call the carpet maker to see if they would agree to lower the price further. At that point, I was quite disappointed. If you're willing to sell the carpet for $3600, or $4400, why the astronomical mark-up? I fully understand and respect the fact that everyone wants to make some money, but why the gouging? Mark-up within reason, and be transparent.

My issue wasn't with the price itself. I was ready to pay had they stood firm after a reasonable discount. The problem, as I saw it, was the fact that different salesmen were setting their own prices. It would have been nice to see the prices listed on the back of the carpet. More transparency this way. I believe several other people had similar experiences, including a gentleman from Texas. He also was turned off and did not make a purchase.

Posted by
13904 posts

Bargaining is a time-honored tradition for centuries in the Middle East and Turkey is a prime example of a Middle Eastern culture. In many countries, it's a ritual enjoyed by both parties and a contest of sorts. If you aren't prepared to take part in the culture and bargain for a purchase, then I guess it's best to eschew the experience and the shopping. Would you pay the first asking price at a flea market in Paris? Same difference.

Posted by
7 posts

Chani,

As someone who was born, raised and continues to spend half his life in the old city of Jerusalem (and the other half in Ohio), I am fully aware of Middle Eastern culture, and bargaining. And while I do agree with SOME of what you said, I think you missed the point I was trying to make. Regardless, I would disagree with the notion that bargaining is a ritual that's enjoyed... far from it. It's a necessity because nobody wants to overpay and feel like they got ripped off.

Posted by
55 posts

Vandrabud,

I did some shopping at some reputable dealers both online and in stores. While I admit I am not an expert, I did find many Turkish wool, vegetable-dyed, hand-made, double knitted rugs for less than 1/2 of what was being asked in Goreme. I’m not smart enough and don’t have the expertise to determine if the quality was the same but they looked good enough to me and just think what I can do with the extra 10k in my pocket. Better yet I think I’ll just save the entire amount. We really don’t need a rug that much. The trip was great. I loved every minute. 😁

Posted by
55 posts

I was a witness to what happened to JHZ. It was crazy. By the way JHZ and his wife were awesome people. Loved the morning runs Z. Hope we can do it again. Go Browns.

Posted by
7 posts

Jim, you and Lori are a wonderful couple. I still owe you a drink by the way! It would be really nice to see you on our next RS tour. I can always use a running partner. Say "Hi" to Lori. Go Browns (and Packers for your sake).

Posted by
686 posts

Jim and JZH,

I think the point is that you cannot expect to find a Turkish carpet store in Turkey that is going to be like going to a store here in the US. So, the choices are become educated about the carpets enough to feel comfortable knowing you are getting a reasonable price, or don't purchase one. It is pretty similar to how buying a car in the US used to be. The dealer/seller is trying to make a profit and the buyer is trying to get a good value. There weren't all of the online sites to help you understand how much the car should cost, so if you were not an informed buyer, you paid too much. I think the scenario described above could easily take place on a used car lot. I agree, I would not enjoy a car buying experience like that but I wouldn't blame the lot for trying to get my money.

The rug I bought was under $800. I certainly would not pay thousands of dollars for something and rely on the seller to tell me I was getting a good deal. We are responsible for our purchases. If you aren't sure, don't buy.
Even if you didn't want to go through the hassle of buying a rug, I thought seeing them and learning about how they were made was worth the visit.

And absolutely GO BROWNS!

Posted by
55 posts

Vandrabud,

Couldn't agree with you more. I'm glad I didn't buy in Goreme.

One huge advantage to buying at home is that if you use a reputable local store, you know where to find them if you have any issues. A store that we have bought rugs from before has a policy that they will buy your rug back for the price you paid or give you credit for what you paid on a trade-in when you buy a new rug anytime. We took advantage of the offer by trading in one of our Persian rugs that we purchased 5 years earlier to buy two Pakistani rugs for about the same price. Maybe it wasn't a good deal but we felt good about it.

Posted by
6065 posts

The fact that different rug dealers set their own different prices doesn't seem odd to me, especially if the carpets are truly unique (even if mass produced, they could still set different prices but it would be easier to compare and refuse to pay the premium). Buying a carpet is by the willingness to pay principle - they will sell for what the market will bear regardless of cost of production. The only troubling thing about JZH's story is that it's not clear on whose interest the tour guide is acting on. I don't believe they are acting on the best interest of the purchaser/tour member so they shouldn't be representing them (although they are a natural go-between due to knowing the Turkish language and customs). I assume that they get their cut from these sales for bringing customers and sellers together in one marketplace, so they are not exactly objective agents and should not be acting on behalf of tour members. I don't see anything wrong with bargaining except if you don't know how the game is played (and the range of costs and indicators of quality for what you want to buy), obviously you're at a disadvantage.

If you buy something (heavy and expensive) overseas, I don't think you can reasonably have the same expectation as buying from your local store. There are transport costs to think about, differences in purchase policies, and just plain cultural differences regarding buyer/seller expectations.

Posted by
686 posts

Agnes,
This happened on an RS tour.
If the guide gets caught getting a kickback I feel confident that he/she would lose their job.
I don't think that would be worth the risk for the guide.
On my tour, our guide did seem to be talking to tour members about their purchases, but I would be truly shocked if he was advocating for the seller. I agree that would be completely inappropriate.

Jim, I am very happy that you did not buy something you later regretted. My tour of Turkey provided a lifetime's worth of memories. The advantage of buying a rug for my mother (who loves small rugs, but buys them at Target) is that my son will eventually end up with it. So three generations of enjoyment. And it is small enough that it won't take over anyone's whole decor.

Posted by
55 posts

Vandrabud,

It sounds like we are both happy with our decisions which is good. I hope the discussion on this blog helps others think when in a similar position. Everyone has different ways they like to remember things. When we talk about memories I keep thinking about the guard at the Dolmabache Palace in Istanbul. His job was to tell the tourists that no pictures were allowed in the palace. He added “the best memories are the pictures you take in your mind anyway”. When he said it I was reminded about some research I read a few years ago that concluded that people who don’t take pictures remember things better than people who take pictures because when you take pictures your brain essentially concludes that it doesn’t have to remember something because there is a photo that can be accessed later. The problem is that most people store their photos and rarely review them. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t take many pictures (the other one is that my wife takes a lot of them so I don’t have to). I guess my long worded point is that people shouldn’t feel pressured to purchase expensive items for a souvenir. In my opinion, memories of your experience are the best souvenir anyway.

Posted by
55 posts

I will Z. Say hi to Jen for us. You’ll have to come visit to buy me that beer.

Posted by
18 posts

I learnt something from an insider of carpet selling. The actual price of the carpet you are being sold is about 5-7% of the price that you are told. You are paying >90% for the salesman's craftsmanship and the show. The morale of the story: you should haggle furiously! Do not think even for a second that you are going to offend the salesman by haggling and lowering the price. Bargaining is an art, and it is very much appreciated in Turkey.

Posted by
55 posts

Travel_bug,
We tried to haggle. They didn’t even counter and told us to go to Walmart. Truthfully I wasn’t disappointed. I learned long ago that it is better to leave with your money than to overpay and have buyer’s regret. I think that the people we were “haggling” with count on people over paying because they really want a memory of their trip. Even though we didn’t purchase a carpet our memories of a wonderful trip are intact. We didn’t need a carpet that much anyway. If we buy a Turkish carpet I’d rather shop locally and buy from a reputable dealer that is nearby for such an expensive purchase.

Posted by
948 posts

Bought a beautifully embroidered silk rug in Istanbul with good instruction regarding the different quality and materials, and were content with the price. After returning home, the same store had traveling salesmen with a van full of rugs call and make an appointment . They brought a huge variety and laid rugs in different rooms. Prices were good and we had the best selection and sizes that matched the rooms and furniture. We bought more rugs, again for what we thought were very fair prices. We and they made counteroffers until accepted.
We had lunch in the country a separate time where local women made rugs- it was more expensive than the others, but we passed.

Posted by
756 posts

This is such an interesting discussion. We are hoping to be able to go to Turkey next June. We'll see, right, as we missed our tour this year that was supposed to be in April. I would love to buy a small rug or something similar as a wall decoration or hanging so am following with interest. And in the spirit...GO PACK GO!!!

Posted by
55 posts

Jlkeman, I know you will love Turkey. My wife and I have taken many trips and we loved them all but Turkey (and Croatia) have been our favorites. We spent an extra few days in Istanbul before the trip started. It gave us time to explore some of the sites not on the tour and take time to visit with some of the locals. Enjoy. Hopefully we can all start traveling again.

Posted by
15 posts

Hi JimV, I am scheduled to travel to Turkey in late Sept 2020, still hoping it will happen! I have booked my flight & will have several days extra in Istanbul on my own. Would appreciate it if you could mention some of the activities you did on your extra days.

To all those who contributed to the discussion on carpet purchases, THANK YOU! It seems that most travelers to Turkey seem to feel, me included, they should purchase the famous Turkish carpets while there, but are NOT “informed” buyers. I plan to do some research locally & online BEFORE my trip, so I will be better prepared to recognize quality and reasonable prices. I have to say, I purchased a small handloomed rug near Oaxaca, Mexico when touring a small village where we watched the rugs being woven and saw the hand dyed wool they were using for the rugs. I felt part of the value to me WAS that I had actually seen them being constructed, so it was worth it to me that I may have paid a little higher price than purchasing one at a large market - for such a special memory as a souvenir :)

Posted by
55 posts

Hi JMJtraveler, its good to get on a travel forum again. We are schedule to hike the Inca Trail in August but I'm thinking it isn't going to happen. Thanks for reaching out. It gives me a chance to relive fond memories. We loved Turkey and the RS tour was fantastic. When my wife and I take a RS tour we typically like to go a few days early to explore places we aren't going to see on the RS tour. There are advantages to staying in the same hotel as is set up by the RS tour but we like be adventurous and stay at a location that is in a different part of the city. For Istanbul we stayed 3 nights in the Beyoglu area within a block of the Galata Tower. The business or new district as some call it is a vibrant area. We stayed at the Georges Hotel, a nice little boutique hotel and splurged on the room with a panoramic view of the Bosphorus. We were glad we did. The view from our balcony was incredible. We tried to hit many of the recommended places on Trip Advisor and the RS Guide on Turkey that aren't being visited on the RS tour. We ate our meals at night on Istikal Street and lunches/breakfast at many places but one place we really liked was an outdoor restaurant in the shadow of Galata Tower where we could people watch. The RS tour does a quick walk of Istikal Street for lunch but you really get a feel for Istanbul on Istikal Street at night. We ate our dinners there and struck up conversations with various Turkish people. From our hotel we walked to Taksim Square (a famous place where many in Istanbul congregate when they want to protest) and from there we walked down the hill to Dolmabache Palace (some people take the Funicular but we like to walk). As an aside, be careful of the cabs. We were ripped off with the old switch where he switched my 50 lira with a 5 and said I only gave him a 5. It wasn't a lot of money but make sure show the driver the cash and say this is a 50 before giving it to him to avoid a similar fate. I can't believe I fell for that one. I haven't seen Versailles Palace in Paris but my wife has and she said the Dolmabache was just as grand. From our hotel we also walked across the Galata Bridge to grab a fish sandwich visited the Balsilica Cistern, went to the Spice Market and the Bazaar (the RS tour does the Bazaar too but my wife wanted extra time) and took a cab to the Chora Church. We climbed the Galata Tower which isn't anything special. It has nice views of Istanbul but I didn't think it was worth the wait in the long line. For the most part we just explored and when the opportunity presented itself we tried to talk to the Turkish people especially on Istikal Street. We found people of Turkey to be very friendly and learned much about their culture and life. They are diverse but as a whole they very similar to us in many ways. Yes their religion is Muslim but like our country their government is set up to be secular (even though Erdogan is pushing the envelope on that one e.g. see the mosque being built in the secular Taksim Square). They have three separated branches of government. The people in the cities are more progressive and the people in the country are more conservative. President Erdogan is much like our President and even claims to be his friend. It's interesting but when you talk to the people you can see that they are just as divided as we are right now. Enjoy your travels. I hope I don't stir up a hornet's nest again but good luck with the carpet purchase. I did hours of research online too but I didn't think it did any good. I thought one US carpet guy online said it best. He said he had been in the Turkish carpet business for 35 years and even he gets fooled once in a while. My advice is don't spend too much. Find something you like and once you purchase it don't second guess yourself. I wish I had bought something in Istanbul. I waited for the tour and when we got to Goreme I thought the carpet factory was overpriced.

Posted by
106 posts

Jim V, Superb review of Istanbul! The only things I will add are: I think the Galata Tower is worth going up to see the amazing views. Get there a half hour before it opens in the morning and you will be first in line. As for taxi cabs: download the BiTaksi app and fill out your info. BiTaksi works much like Uber. You can set it up to pay by credit card or cash. Having said this, since Istanbul is so crowded, it will be difficult for a BiTaksi driver to find you on a very busy street. Best to walk down a less busy side street if you can find one then use the app. If you hail a taxi on the street, or want to pay a BiTaksi driver with cash, take a photo of you handing the driver the cash, so there is evidence of what you gave him. I always put my destination into Google Maps on my phone and follow where the driver is going. I used the BiTaksi app to get to the Chora Church and the driver didn’t seem to know how to get there. I handed him my phone and he used Google Maps to get us there.