Classic arbitrage

A whole group of people trolls ebay looking for items that are “misplaced” because their descriptions are spelled incorrectly. If you list your “Haitian” painting as a “Hatian” painting no one will find it with a key word search. In essence this means that no one will find it at all, except of course for these noble entrepreneurs, these enforcers of spelling correctness.

Here is some information about our nation’s literacy or lack thereof:

David Scroggins…searches for misspellings…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?”

One unofficial survey – an hour’s search for creative spellings – turned up dozens of items, including bycicles, telefones, dimonds, mother of perl, cuttlery, bedroom suits and loads of antiks.

Contacted, the sellers were often surprised to hear that they had misspelled their wares.

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.

Well, at least these people are paying a price for their egregious mistakes. Here is the full story. Thanks to Lucas Wiman for the pointer.