A surge in otherwise quite unusual one-star reviews of Yankee Candles, from customers who claim their product has no scent, could be driven by people who have unwittingly lost their sense of smell due to Covid. The strange trend first came to light in Christmas of 2020 and happened again in winter 2021 as covid cases began to surge again.
As we head into the 2022 festive season, blocked noses, flu, colds and covid are joining forces to once again kill the sense of smell for thousands of consumers worldwide.
Dr Nicholas Beauchamp, an assistant professor in political science at Northeastern University, Massachusetts, analysed almost 10,000 Amazon reviews of Yankee Candle’s top four best-sellers between 2018 and 2021. He established a clear link between poor reviews and rising Covid cases, presenting his findings at the Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media.
He said he used Yankee reviews because digital traces of Covid are elusive due to “the infrequency of discussions of smell online”. He added that “‘No smell’ reviews reflect changes in US Covid cases even when controlling for the seasonality of those reviews. A series of robustness checks suggests that this effect is also seen in perfume reviews, but did not hold for the flu prior to Covid. These results suggest that inadvertent digital traces may be an important tool for tracking epidemics.”
The number of Yankee Candle reviews complaining of ‘no smell’ went up by 0.25 percentage points for every 100,000 reported Covid cases, even when accounting for external factors, such as the time of year. The link is so strong, claims Dr Beauchamp, that Yankee Candle reviews can provide “a slight heads up” for new Covid surges.
Dr Beauchamp originally conducted the research to amuse himself in his spare time during lockdown, then ran the first analysis on his computer while watching TV. “It starts with a viral tweet, and it ends with a punchline,” he says. “Mostly, I consider the paper to be an extended joke tweet.”
Anosmia is a well-known symptom of coronavirus infection, but was more common in earlier waves of the pandemic and is still listed as a main symptom on the NHS website.