6 Sales Tips From Istanbul's Grand Bazaar
BY Jon Gelberg
Competition is fierce inside this ancient, 5,000-shop market. Here's how the best merchants stand out--and what you can learn from them.
I recently vacationed in Turkey with the intention of clearing my head of business and soaking up one of the most vibrant cultures in the world.
While I was able to do both (most of the time), I couldn't help noticing the stellar sales techniques employed by the shop owners I met throughout the country, especially those who were working in Istanbul's legendary Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar has been around since 1461, covers 60 blocks, and has over 5,000 shops. On a daily basis, somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors stroll through looking for rugs, ceramics, jewelry, gold, silver, and just about anything else you can imagine.
Competition in the Grand Bazaar is particularly intense, because businesses are grouped together by the wares they sell. Jewelers are side-by-side with jewelers, rug merchants are shoulder-to-shoulder with other rug merchants.
Because of this, the Grand Bazaar is the perfect laboratory for anyone seeking to learn the art of successful salesmanship. Why do some storekeepers thrive while others struggle?
Here are six ways the best merchants differentiated themselves:
1. Employ humor.
When you are surrounded by competitors selling exactly what you are selling, injecting some personality into your pitch is key--and humor can be one of your most powerful sales tools.
Some of the great lines I heard in the Bazaar included:
"You walk like someone ready to buy a carpet."
"See our genuine fake watches."
"Would you like to spend all of your money in my shop?"
"Buy our 'Turkish Viagra.'" (A mix of dates, figs and nuts)
OK, so these lines may not be hilarious but they recognize that humor is something we all share. Simple jokes can break down barriers between seller and buyer and bring you one step closer to a possible sale. Some e-commerce sites that really understand this. Take a look at Threadless, Bonobos, and ThinkGeek. Each site uses amusing copy to help sell their wares.
2. Pay attention to presentation and display.
After a while, it seems like every pottery shop has the same bowls, plates, and decanters. The shops that caught my eye were the ones that made wise aesthetic choices, showcasing unique, quirky, or high-quality products out front. Others, like the food vendors, used a dazzling array of products to make an impact.
Another brilliant tool: Catch potential customers' eyes with something truly bizarre (no pun intended), like this massive mannequin. How can you resist stopping, even if it's just long enough to snap a picture?
Well-placed visuals are just as important to websites as they are to brick-and-mortar shops. Too many businesses clutter their home pages with dozens of products, using small photographs and hard-to-read copy. Take a lesson from the best stores in the Bazaar: Either highlight your very best products or display your whole offering in a vibrant and compelling way.
As I walked through the Grand Bazaar, I was overwhelmed by the shop owners and workers trying to get my business. One of the most common questions I heard was, "where are you from?" This question seems simple enough, but shopkeepers use it to gain valuable pricing demographics. If you say you are from New York City or Frankfurt, for example, they'll jack up the opening price considerably.
E-commerce sites have the ability to pick up customer intelligence, such as email addresses, location, and buying history. The trick, as those Istanbul merchants know, is to get the information as seamlessly and unobtrusively as possible. Find ways to reward people who provide personal information. Discounts, membership privileges, and exclusive content all work well.
4. Break the ice and find common ground.
The "where are you from" question is key for another reason: The answer helps shopkeepers find some common ground. Quite often when I responded with "New York," a shopkeeper would claim to have a brother-in-law, son, or cousin who just happened to live there, too. This "ice-breaker" quickly led to a sales pitch.
The Web offers hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities to find common ground with your target audience. If you sell sporting goods, get involved with sites that attract sports enthusiasts. Join groups, participate in discussions, and, yes, advertise where those groups can be found. Facebook and LinkedIn offer perfect opportunities to reach a highly targeted audience.
5. Demonstrate your expertise.
There is a lot of schlock in the Grand Bazaar--cheap items (many made in China) that find their way into tourists' luggage. But there are also many stores that offer the highest quality products: hand painted ceramics made from a base of quartz, intricately woven rugs using top level materials and craftsmanship, and gold and silver jewelry with patterns and designs you won't find anywhere else in the world.
"You don't have to buy," many merchants told me. "Just come in and let me show you our work." Once I stepped inside, they had the opportunity not just to show their wares, but also to demonstrate the craftsmanship that went into the products. The longer you listen to their stories, the harder it is to leave empty-handed.
The Web gives you similar opportunities to demonstrate your expertise. Take advantage of blogs, articles, and videos to show customers what you can do.
6. Find your "stickiness" factor.
"Stickiness" is a term mostly used in the context of the Web (unless you're Cinnabon), but it also applies to the great merchants of the Grand Bazaar.
In the Bazaar, the primary "stickiness" factor is the cup of tea. When offered a cup of tea in Turkey, it is considered to be exceptionally rude to turn it down. Once you have a steaming, sweet cup of tea in front of you, the merchant has a captive audience--and an excellent chance of nailing down the sale.
On the Web, stickiness refers to the elements that lure visitors to your site and keep them coming back. Quality content, via blogs and videos, and vibrant online communities that engage visitors both can make your site sticky and help generate future sales.
The Bottom Line
I returned to the U.S. hardly empty handed. The merchants of the Grand Bazaar may have a nice chunk of my bank account, but my wife and I now have an array of beautiful Turkish wares, not to mention great memories of the country, its people, and the most aggressive--and often endearing--salespeople I've ever met.