Y gud spelin cn mek all tha diffrnc

An online entrepreneur says spelling mistakes on retail sites are costing the economy millions. Another illustration of the UK's skills problem?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 27 Jul 2011
Here’s a problem with which MT has (ahem) never struggled: entrepreneur Charles Duncombe, who runs the Just Say Please group (proprietor of such upstanding websites as tightsplease.co.uk), has criticised graduates' poor spelling skills, after working out that a single spelling mistake on an online shopping page can halve sales of that product. Duncombe studied visits to his website, and discovered that he made twice as much money from a product once a spelling mistake had been corrected. What this means, he says, is that online businesses could be losing millions of pounds a week because of bad spelling.

Duncombe argues that, where online retail is concerned, gaining customers' trust is all-important; without it, they’ll be reluctant to give you their credit card details. And decent spelling and grammar is, he believes, crucial to convincing potential customers that you’re a nice, respectable business. ‘You get about six seconds to capture the attention on a website,’ he said. ‘Getting the basics right is essential.’

The trouble is, according to Duncombe, online businesses are increasingly struggling to find people with the right skills. In fact, many of the applications he’s received have made their unsuitability for the job quite clear: some used text-speak in their cover letters, while others were unable to complete a spelling test without access to a computer spell-checker. He added that, while most online businesses rely on staff with complex technical skills, the real challenge these days is finding staff who can spell. Shoking.

Nor is Duncombe the only person concerned about poor literacy skills among school and college leavers. A recent survey by the CBI found that 42% of employers are ‘not satisfied’ with the basic reading and writing skills of school leavers; apparently, almost half have actually had to invest in some kind of ‘remedial training’ to improve their skills. Judging by MT's previous correspondence on this subject, we suspect many of you will empathise...

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