Today’s NY Times has a funny article by Diana Jean Schemo about the problems people encounter offering misspelled items on eBay. It starts with a woman who had no luck trying to sell “chandaleer” earrings and continues:
Such is the eBay underworld of misspellers, where the clueless — and sometimes just careless — sell labtop computers, throwing knifes, Art Deko vases, camras, comferters and saphires.
They do get bidders, but rarely very many. Often the buyers are those who troll for spelling slip-ups, buying items on the cheap and selling them all over again on eBay, but with the right spelling and for the right price. John H. Green, a jeweler in Central Florida, is one of them.
Mr. Green once bought a box of gers for $2. They were gears for pocket watches, which he cleaned up and put back on the auction block with the right spelling. They sold for $200. “I’ve bought and sold stuff on eBay and Yahoo that I bought for next to nothing” because of poor spelling or vague descriptions, he said.
David Scroggins, who lives in Milwaukee, also searches for misspellings. His company provides entertainment for weddings and corporate events, and microphone systems for shows at Wisconsin’s casinos. He has bought Hubbell electrical cords for a 10th of their usual cost by searching for Hubell and Hubbel. And he now operates his entire business by laptop computers, having bought three Compaqs for a pittance simply by asking for Compacts instead.
There is a pointed illustration of the perils of using Google as your spellchecker:
Ms. Marshall, who lives in Dallas, said she knew she was on shaky ground when she set out to spell chandelier. But instead of flipping through a dictionary, she did an Internet search for chandaleer and came up with 85 or so listings.
She never guessed, she said, that results like that meant she was groping in the spelling wilderness. Chandelier, spelled right, turns up 715,000 times.
Some people take misspellings into account when offering items for sale:
Warren Lieu of Houston, who was selling hunting and fishing knives on eBay recently, covered all the bases: his listing advertised every sort of alphabetic butchery, including knifes and knive.
Mr. Lieu, a computer programmer, keeps a list of common misspellings, including labtop for laptop and Cusinart for Cuisinart.
His strategy of listing multiple spellings, he said, is based on his experience as a buyer. “I’m a bad speller myself,” he said. So his mistakes in searching for items led him to realize that he could buy up bargains.
“I’d go ahead and deliberately misspell it when I searched for items,” he said.
Jim Griffith, whose official title at eBay is dean of eBay education, teaches 40 to 50 seminars a year around the country. Although the auction house flags common misspellings online, Mr. Griffith said, the most common question he gets is, “When will eBay get a spell checker?” His answer? “You go to a store called a bookstore, and you buy something called a dictionary.”
(Thanks to Bonnie for the link.)