THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

If the spelling is wrong, the price may be right

By Douglas Quenqua
The New York Times / November 24, 2008
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Looking to save money on a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes this holiday season? Try searching for Manolo Blahnicks.

A handful of new websites with names like Typo Bay and Typo Buddy are out to help shoppers save money by searching eBay for misspelled brand names. Such items often have fewer bidders because they don't appear in search results for people who spell the items correctly, and therefore can be had at a cheaper price.

It's a well-known strategy among longtime eBay shoppers, but one that owners of these sites are hoping will translate into big business - relatively speaking - as shoppers look to save money this holiday season.

Typo Buddy started about six months ago and already has up to 80,000 visitors on a good day, said its president, Jonathan Lieberman, an Internet entrepreneur in San Diego. "I expect in this market, where people are ever more vigilant for deals, that we'll do really well this holiday season," he predicted.

Joseph Mantha, the 19-year-old co-creator of Typo Bay, which started in 2007, said October was the site's busiest month yet. (A big month for Typo Bay means about 4,000 visitors - and about $500.) He also expects traffic to grow in the weeks before the holidays.

Apparently there are deals to be had. Heather Guinther, a customer service representative from Newport Beach, Calif., recently used Typo Buddy to find an $850 pair of "Manolo Blahnick" shoes for about $350.

"I knew I could find some Manolos on there because it's not an easy name to spell," she said.

Abercrombie & Fitch, Louis Vuitton and Banana Republic are among the most misspelled brands, said Lieberman. (It's the word "banana" that gets them.) There are misspelled categories, as well: eBay hosts a thriving marketplace for "jewlry."

Visitors to these sites enter the correct spelling of the item they are looking for, and the sites automatically search eBay for common misspellings. EBay then pays the sites a small commission for each search that results in a sale.

Won't driving more bidders to these undervalued items eventually drive up the price?

"There are a lot of bad spellers on eBay," said Andrew Teman, a business development executive from Boston. "It would be a heck of a thing if this fixed bad spelling on the Internet."

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