Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Scented candles: An unexpected victim of the Covid-19 pandemic (twitter.com/kate_ptrv)
121 points by Tomte 56 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments

One possible reason for an increase in such complaints pointed out in Twitter seems quite plausible: people who ordinarily would have tried a scent in the store, didn’t smell much, and just moved on to a different candle, are now ordering them online instead and discovering the lack after the sale.

So I imagine there are multiple reasons for the trend, but it’s still interesting.

Except they're comparing Amazon reviews to other Amazon reviews. It can be assumed the reviews from January-March were purchased with the same expectations as those from later in the year.

I'd be curious to see if there's a difference in negative reviews when divided by regions with different COVID infection rates.

I disagree with this. One thing we saw during the pandemic is a shift of shopping behavior, with new cohorts beginning to rely on Amazon & similar than did before. I would absolutely expect that the group of people buying scented candles during the height of the lock downs would be a completely different cohort of people compared to pre-lockdown.

That's a reasonable possibility. Another could be scent fatigue or perhaps call it scent normalization. That is, for example, if you're (home) burning more candles more often your sense of smell will adjust to that baseline, that norm.

We need more data.

These scented candles smells smell quite strong; at least in your average mall they basically perfume a radius of about a few hundred feet and I can barely stand to go into the store.

If you can’t smell the candle it’s probably you.

Much as when someone with pets no longer can tell how much their house smells like their pets.

What are you on about? It's clearly COVID.

There's nothing clearly about it although the data is certainly suggestive. I hope you don't do science or anything else that involves creating hypotheses and testing them. I'm inclined to think "probably" but the parent comment is at least plausible.

I’m sure they exist, but almost every scented candle I’ve ever smelled is quite strong. Smelling candles in a store is a matter of finding a smell that you like, not one that has a smell at all.

Lack of smell is a characteristic symptom of the coronavirus, including in otherwise a symptomatic people. The proportion of reviews (2->6%) pretty clearly tracks the increased caseload of the virus in the United States.

While you are technically correct, this phenomenon is almost certainly due to the virus.

I actually agree it's probably the most plausible explanation. I was mostly objecting to the no other explanation is even worth considering tone.

I agree. There are many people, like me, that barely have a sense of smell to begin with. I would never buy a scented candle for myself. But if I didn't really know that Scott myself, maybe I would suddenly decide to get one based on an article about covid and scented candles and then be disappointed. The reason I say this is I didn't really know how bad my sense of smell was until my son was born and I started dealing with various odours that I could handle easily and others found far stronger.

Yup--I'm sensitive to such smells and I avoid any part of a store that has scented candles, period. Just sitting on the shelf they bother me.

There is also another hypothesis that likely is messing with the data, more people are working at home and from what I can tell from friends, it is making women buy a lot more scented candles (they’re literally selling out once stock is added), which combines with the time and convenience of being able to write reviews that would otherwise not be written. Or, as you described earlier, there would be no review or rating left when smelling candles in store. This seems to be a form of selection bias.

I also find it rather shocking how nonchalant people who likely consider themselves educated and scientific, just jump to rather dangerous conclusions; dangerous in that it can contribute to hysterics that have been driving this pandemic response and has us in a catch 22 type situation.

Isn't this a non-issue because they're measuring the proportion of reviews rather than the absolute amount? The selection bias effect that you mentioned still applies, but as long as the effect is consistent between months it shouldn't affect the conclusion.

You can’t just count on proportion, because the cohort of people buying candles online in March includes a bunch of people who used to buy candles exclusively in store. If the previously in-store people were more likely to be picky or have different needs, there is a good chance that they would leave different ratings online. It’s hard to separate those effects. It seems plausible to me that someone who insists on buying candles in store is likely to be more picky than someone who buys online, (or based on my time in Candle sections, is already nose-deaf and need very strong candles), and thus would be more likely to complain.

The big question is what are they buying. If these reviews are coming from people buying the same brand/scent as before, then Covid related scent loss is the most plausible explanation (although I wonder why some one in such a situation would bother to leave a review....). But if these shoppers are buying new scents for fun or availability reasons, it’s hard to separate those who are losing their smell due to Covid from those who are just dissatisfied with a candle they purchased scent unsmelled.

Note that in the replies to that tweet there's a Google trends for "I can't smell". The graph looks just like the Covid case counts.

I agree that the similarity between reviews and Covid cases is compelling; I’m just pointing out that there are other possible factors.

I agree with your comment, except what appears to be driving our response to the pandemic is a debt spiral and cognitive dissonance. I wish people would get hysterical enough to eg not travel for the holidays.

I think GP was being sarcastic.

I checked yesterday and this link [1] was shared a few times on HN but didn’t get any traction. Someone has analysed the reviews and found a trend throughout the year. I found it fascinating.

[1] https://twitter.com/kate_ptrv/status/1332398737604431874

Sort of OT, but while this is a very interesting use of data, I also wish it weren't solely shared as a Twitter thread. It's probably good for short-term discoverability but likely throws it into a black hole for the longer term. And, alas, it seems more and more common including in links from this site.

You could write a blog post linking and embedding the tweets, summarizing them and your thoughts.

A twitter thread is probably far more durable than a generic blog. At least for blogs using a custom domain and/or hosting.

My personal preference is to write a blog (on blogger) and link to it from a tweet.

Counterfeit Yankee Candles are definitely a thing[1] and could be an alternate explanation for this trend. If the supply of genuine candles drops then the percentage of fake ones could increase, particularly due to Amazon’s inventory sharing.

Fake Jo Malone candles have been reported as having catastrophic glass failure [2] or containing a number of bad news chemicals.

[1] https://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/news/hull-east-yorkshire-new...

[2] https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/council_and_democracy/counci...

A few years ago, I went into one of those mall stores that sells candles, lotion, etc.

I could smell the very first candle I picked up. After that the cacophony of smells was apparently too much for me and I couldn't smell anything at all until after I left the store.

So I guess it could be that they all have coronavirus, but it seems just as likely that they've all been cooped up inside their houses with probably overly filthy air and their noses just can't take it anymore.

It sounds to me that what you are describing is known as olfactory fatigue. A new smell will become ‘normalised’ after a few moments, and you’re unable to distinguish it any longer. That would not work in the scenario that you described since the scent of the candle would be ‘new’ in the context of the normalised home environment.


Febreeze has created a whole marketing campaign based on this phenomenon. They use the term “nose blind”.

I wish my brain worked that way. I just get migraines when I walk into those stores. It’s really one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had.

I'm glad I'm not the only one. I hold my breath walking past Lush shops.

Sometimes I have to use the fairly fancy department store in Copenhagen (Magasin). I often walk all the way round, so I can enter in… handbags or something, I don't know, I just know it doesn't smell. The more convenient entrance is to the perfume section, which makes me gag.

I have no problem with person-quantity perfume. I found the signs in California about a "scent-free workplace" a bit strange. Some shops just have enough perfume to knock out a horse.

(Many years ago, I had a job working in a chocolate factory for the summer. I couldn't eat chocolate for the whole summer, after the 8 hour exposure every day, but it wasn't unpleasant. I bet there are food industry jobs where the smell really is unpleasant.)

If you’re into or follow alternative health people at all, you’ll probable hear one of them mention that “scents are going to be the next second hand smoke”. I have no evidence or opinion on whether that’s right or not, but I do suspect that scents are going to become another one of those culture war issues in work places soon.

Yup, I try to avoid going through perfume sections, if necessary I hold my breath and hurry. Scented candle sections are even worse, I stay far away from them.

> I'm glad I'm not the only one. I hold my breath walking past Lush shops

I routinely get sore eyes when I visit my sister-in-law, who loves scented candles. It's that or her cats, although I've never noticed a reaction to animals elsewhere.

I have had an allergy to animal dander since I was born. The strength of the reaction depends entirely on the type of animal. It has also changed as I have aged.

At this point, birds and cats are about the only animals that I cannot have in my house.

Scent allergies are also common to develop as you age. My mother used to love scented things, but hasn't been able to have them for going on 20 years.

I wouldn't rule either out, to be honest.

Cats can now be vaccinated to eliminate the antigen most people are allergic to.

It is very interesting why it works. The source of the antigen is a bacterial infection they lick onto their fur. Eliminate the infection -- really, replace it with a different one -- and no more dander problem.

> I hold my breath walking past Lush shops.

For my part, I have a positive reaction to Lush shops. Almost too positive a reaction: I want to eat all that I smell, and I have to remind myself that those are soaps, they are not edible.

I’ve had serious hay fever (allergic reaction) to a shop selling perfumes. I’ve also had the same reaction to a single person wearing too much perfume (covering up bulimia) which also ruined my day (I had to go home from work).

There must be people that get full blown anaphylactic shock.

But people get really offended when you mention anything negative about the invasiveness of their perfume or makeup!

I think I got a headache from it as well. It was really not a great experience. Can't imagine being someone that worked there.

I worked on a project with a major company that made scent related products. One of the big issues is users going “nose deaf” and no longer being able to smell the scents that they purchased and growing dissatisfied.

The official science term is smell blind.

Keep in mind that the majority of the time period in question was over the summer, so I doubt that people were particularly cooped up in their houses even if they were working from home. It would be easy to go enjoy the outdoors or even just open the windows.

In many places in the US, summer is the only time of year when going outdoors or opening windows is not tenable.

They do have chemicals that are supposed to be the equivalent of nose palate cleansers at the store.

Covid actually sometimes alters the sense of smell. Things start smelling differently, and from what I've heard in some cases selectively so. Say, everything smells about same, but coffee starts smelling like burned rubber.

Maybe candle companies should consider licensing Google Nose technology to enable a scent preview!


Some alternate theories:

Candles have a social purpose. When no one is coming over, there is less need to make the house smell nice quickly. ;)

Scented candles are sold in malls, which have not been visited much this year.

Scented candles are given as gifts (to aunts, etc.), and many birthdays have been forgone this year.

Candle-making is a popular hobby this year.

Edit: weird downvotes. It shouldn’t need to be said that these ideas are presented for discussion. They’re not political statements.

The tweet itself focuses on the drop in average rating this year, not quantity of sales. I didn't down vote you, but others may have because you aren't responding to the claim in the tweet, but an interpretation of the title.

I did downvote them. For making absolutely no sense in the context of the article, for the weird non-sequitur about politics, and for the complaint about downvotes.

The downvote for mentioning downvotes is fair (it's against the guidelines here.) I read the article, of course, so the rest doesn't make sense since branching/speculative discussion is just fine.

That's a good point -- I overlooked that when I read the twitter thread. Thank you for correcting.

Your hypothesis would explain a decrease in sales ; but can it explain an increase of negative reviews?

No, it cannot. That's a good point I overlooked in the Twitter thread.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact