John H. Green, a jeweler in Central Florida, 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.
No one knows how much misspelling is out there in eBay land, where more than $23 billion worth of goods was sold last year. The company does flag common misspellings, but wrong spellings can also turn up similar misspellings, so that buyers and sellers frequently read past the Web site’s slightly bashful line asking, by any chance, “Did you mean . . . chandelier?”