March 3, 2008 in Business

In search of invisible auctions

Amy Klamper The Spokesman-Review
 

It may not bode well for literacy in this country, but thanks to a new online search tool designed to hunt bargains among misspelled auction listings, fat-fingered sellers on eBay and craigslist need fear the typo no more.

A frequent occurrence in online auctions, misspelled keywords make goods and services difficult or impossible to find. Each day thousands of items on eBay and craigslist are posted with misspelled descriptions, and many of them expire without a single bidder or buyer – until now.

Plug “Teletubbies” into the query box at typobuddy.com, and you’re just a couple mouse-clicks away from some very cheap, albeit somewhat controversial, kids TV-show ephemera. That’s because Typo Buddy helps you sift through sellers’ bad spellings and typos on both eBay and craigslist, presenting the results as one-click search links.

My own Typo Buddy search for Teletubbies turned up a nice lot of six “Teletubbis” board books for $1.99 on eBay, with no bids and only hours to go. When they arrive in the mail next week, my 2-year-old daughter will be thrilled, as will my husband when I present the 99-cent “Soree” men’s snow boots he needs to get outside and liberate our storm drain from a pile of melting snow.

And speaking of sensible footwear, who could resist a pair of black suede “Monolo Blahnik” pumps for $7.99 on eBay, when black suede Manolo Blahnik pumps retail for upwards of $800?

Although Typo Buddy isn’t the first online tool to find typos for consumers – fatfingers.com, invisible-auctions.com and missing-auctions.com were early pioneers – this latest search aid offers a few advantages over the competition, according to Jonathan Lieberman, CEO of Typo Buddy’s parent company, San Diego-based Deal Locker.

For one thing, Typo Buddy searches craigslist.

“No one else is doing craigslist because they can’t make any money from it,” Lieberman says, noting that as an affiliate of eBay, Deal Locker gets paid every time a shopper makes an eBay purchase using Typo Buddy. In exchange for a winning bid, eBay shares a percentage of the auction fees collected from the seller, he explains. “But on craigslist, we make nothing.”

Typo Buddy also does more than find typos – it searches for spelling errors thanks to its “enormous corpus of misspelled words,” using phonetic matching to find possible misspellings, Lieberman says.

Although shoppers can use Typo Buddy to search just about any item on eBay or craigslist, the best results come from major name brands.

Much like other typo-finders, Typo Buddy fine-tunes search results with an advanced search function that allows shoppers to exclude specific words – like “chenille” when searching for “Chanel” – along with other search criteria.

In addition to Typo Buddy, Lieberman’s other bargain-hunting search suites include the Secret Amazon Discount Tool, which lets consumers search Amazonby percentage discounts on goods, and Deal Locker, a forum where consumers share coupon codes for major online retailers.

Lieberman says his interest in unlocking the secret to online bargains stems from his own Internet shopping experiences.

“For me it really grew out of a frustration of buying something online and getting to the empty coupon code box, and it’s kind of mocking you because you don’t have the secret code,” he says. “And I said, ‘Hey, I can fix this.’ ”

It didn’t take him long to fix the typo/misspelling problem for consumers, too, after people suggested a new search tool to save them from manually hunting misspellings on eBay and craigslist.

“It’s a pain to have to think of all the typos and search for them there, and craigslist is impossible because they don’t let you do an ‘or’ search,” Lieberman says.

Problem solved. Now if he could only fix the illiteracy problem, he’d be out of business.


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