Spelling Counts in the eBay World

Misspelled words could mean missed sales.

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Jun 05, 2009

If you know you'll never win your city's spelling bee or often forget the "I before E, except after C" rule, you may want to pick up a dictionary before you list your next batch of items.

That's because misspellings can cost you big bucks. One seller missed out on a potential half-million dollar opportunity when he misspelled a rare kind of Allsopp's Arctic Ale beer from the 1850s. He left out a P in "Allsopp." A savvy buyer came along and bought the bottle for $304, then went on to sell it for more than $500,000.

So let's take a look at just how misspelling could affect your listings and your profits. You don't want to give your items away, do you?

Typos run rampant

"Misspelling has to be one of the most common 'predictably wrong' things that people do in the modern world of Internet search," writes Adam Nash, senior director of Product and User Experience at LinkedIn, in his blog. "And yet, despite years of technology and focus on the area, it still can be an incredible source of value. On eBay, for example, it has been a long-standing trick of experienced buyers to search for common misspelling of their favorite items."

And misspellings are all too common on the auction site. On a Thursday afternoon, an eBay search for "labtop" returned 63 results, many of them with less than 10 bids. Some items had no bids at all. A small message asking "Did you mean: laptop?" did pop up under the results, but it's easy to miss. Even entering "chadalier" returned results. Imagine what could happen if you misspelled "diamonds."

So sellers should be wary and diligently use their spell-checkers, especially when entering the title of their items, according to Money Blue Book, a finance and investing blog.

"Misspelled keywords in the auction title essentially eliminate the buyer-and-seller equilibrium usually inherent in eBay. Because the vast majority of prospective eBay buyers find their item by typing in keywords into the eBay search forum, such spelling errors have the potential to make or break final sales," according to Money Blue Book.

Listings with misspellings get fewer visits and thus fewer bids

Misspellings mean bargains

As we have seen, misspellings could mean you end up selling a good—or rare—product for a lot less than it's worth. Misspellings cause items to become lost, reports Mikel Beck, the owner of a search engine that allows people to look for misspelled listings on eBay.

"To find names on eBay with misspellings, one has to hunt for them. As a result of this, these listings get fewer visits and thus fewer bids," he notes. And a lack of competition means lower prices, a good sign for bargain hunters, but a missed step for sellers.

Buyers are becoming aware of how common mistakes are on the auction site—and they're using this knowledge to their advantage, says Brad Schepp, an e-commerce expert and Auctiva contributor.

"Savvy eBay buyers used to look for misspellings, even using software programs to help them out," Schepp says. "I think the cat's out of the bag on this, and it's an area not as ripe for the picking as it used to be. Still, there's always hope (for good deals)."

Many of the tools buyers use to find misspelled listings are free of charge and easy to use. With FatFingers, for example, users just have to type in the search words and click the "find" button to locate "hidden gems," according to the site. Auction Bloopers does the same. Both sites simply require entering a keyword and a click of the search button.

Misspellings make some buyers cautious

But that's not the only way sellers can lose money. Misspellings look unprofessional and if a buyer comes upon a misspelled listing and doesn't offer the seller less money than they would for a listing with the correct spelling, they may skip that listing altogether.

When someone is going to spend good money—or any money for that matter—on an item, they want to be sure they will get the product and that it will be in the condition the listing describes. Misspellings, however, can be red flags, indicating a lack of commitment from a seller, and buyers won't want to do business.

One eBay buyer says he often bypasses listings with spelling errors.

"If you cannot spell or write correctly, what makes you think I trust you to complete the transaction?" he writes on his blog.

Schepp agrees. "I think a listing that's full of misspellings is a turn off, yes," reports Schepp. "But one or two misspellings are certainly tolerable. Now if the misspelling is in the title, that's something else."

A spell-checker can help, but there's no substitute for careful proofreading

So be sure to spell-check your titles, descriptions and captions. You don't want to let a good paying customer go by just to save a few minutes.

Ditch spelling mistakes

One of the simplest and best tools you can use is the built-in spell-check in your word processing program. It takes seconds and, although it isn't foolproof, it will catch a lot of mistakes. Auctiva's eBay listing page also has spell-check built into the description editor. So the next time you need to type up a description for that "labtop" you want to sell, open up a Word document so you'll be reminded that the correct spelling is "laptop," not "labtop."

Still, there's no substitute for careful proofreading. This will help you catch any wrong "there," "their," or "they're" you may have in your listing, and it'll also give you a chance to spruce up your listing if you need to. Remember, buyers have thousands of items to choose from so you should make your listings as interesting as possible. And if you're just not that great a speller, have a friend read your listing before you post it. It could save you a lot of headaches.

So next time you're ready to list items, be sure you have your dictionary handy. It could help you make big bucks, or at least catch the attention of enough customers to make a fair profit for the goods you're offering.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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