Smart Shopping: the Origins and Consequences of Price Savings

Haim Mano, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Michael T. Elliott, University of Missouri-St. Louis
ABSTRACT - This research focuses on smart shopping, defined as a tendency for consumers to invest considerable time and effort in seeking and utilizing promotion-related information to achieve price savings. The study develops a measure of smart shopping and assesses its relationships to other related marketplace traits and behaviors as well as shopping-specific outcomes. The results indicate that smart shopping is a distinct behavioral construct. Furthermore, when individuals attribute price savings to their shopping skills and efforts, smart shopping is positively associated with favorable utilitarian and hedonic evaluations and purchase satisfaction.
[ to cite ]:
Haim Mano and Michael T. Elliott (1997) ,"Smart Shopping: the Origins and Consequences of Price Savings", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 504-510.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 504-510


Haim Mano, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Michael T. Elliott, University of Missouri-St. Louis


This research focuses on smart shopping, defined as a tendency for consumers to invest considerable time and effort in seeking and utilizing promotion-related information to achieve price savings. The study develops a measure of smart shopping and assesses its relationships to other related marketplace traits and behaviors as well as shopping-specific outcomes. The results indicate that smart shopping is a distinct behavioral construct. Furthermore, when individuals attribute price savings to their shopping skills and efforts, smart shopping is positively associated with favorable utilitarian and hedonic evaluations and purchase satisfaction.

Prominent in many shopping experiences is the belief that certain activities such as organizing and redeeming coupons, reading product labels, or knowing where to buy certain products will lead to price savings. These activities are often described in the popular press as "smart-shopping." This concept is associated with transactions involving an effective use of one’s marketplace skills and resources that ultimately leads to enhanced economic utility.

In addition to these strictly economic aspects, smart shopping may provide a variety of psychological and social benefits to consumers (Schindler 1989). For example, paying a reduced price for a particular item might lead a consumer to feel proud, excited, or to have a sense of accomplishment (Holbrook et al. 1984), thereby enhancing one’s self image. The satisfaction of utilizing one’s shopping expertise to "beat the system" or to help others find bargains may also serve self-esteem needs (Feick et al. 1988). It is not clear, however, under what conditions price savings lead to psychological benefits. There is evidence which suggests that the extent of hedonic responses to shopping depends largely on how "responsible" consumers feel for getting a discount (Schindler 1989). If such conditions facilitate positive shopping experiences, then it is important to examine how and when attribution of responsibility may lead to them.

The purpose of this paper is three-fold. First, we conceptualize and measure the smart shopping trait. Second, we explore the construct’s links with related marketplace behaviors. Third, we investigate the role of attribution of responsibility in moderating utilitarian and hedonic evaluations as well as purchase satisfaction. Though exploratory in nature, this study attempts to establish smart shopping as a unique behavioral construct with respect to other consumer involvement traits.


We define smart shopping as the tendency to invest considerable time and effort in seeking and utilizing promotion-related information in order to achieve price savings. Our discussion of this construct revolves around three interrelated components: (1) marketplace knowledge, (2) behaviors designed to acquire promotion-related information, and (3) the consequences of taking advantage of price promotions.

Smart Shopping Knowledge

Kassarjian (1981) contends that some individuals may feel it is their obligation to become knowlegeable consumers. An essential element of the hypothesized smart shopping trait is a willingness to invest effort to gather information for specific product purchases. Many shoppers (cf. Furse et al.’s 1982, preparatory shoppers) are likely to believe that doing their "homework" is important in taking advantage of sales opportunities, getting the best deal possible, or finding high quality merchandise at discount prices.

Smart shopping is reflected in two forms of marketplace knowledge and skills: (a) sales awareness and (b) ability to effectively evaluate prices. First, smart shoppers exhibit an awareness of sales promotions in the marketplace since they are motivated by the utility of saved financial resources. Therefore, these consumers know when an item is on sale, where to shop for specials, and frequently note sales announcements.

Second, smart shoppers are believed to have general price knowledge and the ability to effectively evaluate prices. Smart shoppers may undertake a number of covert and fairly elaborate mental price evaluation activities including price-related memory searches, drawing inferences about the seller’s reputation and motives, and sophisticated reasoning to determine whether a price is high or low (Schindler and Bauer 1988). They are also likely to be involved in overt price evaluation activities (Schindler 1989) such as examining ads, checking labels, asking salespeople and friends, or monitoring the price accuracy. The utilization of these cognitive skills is a major factor leading the smart shopper to take credit for transactional savings.

Smart Shopping Behaviors

Even though a number of behaviors may be indicative of effective shopping, two types of behaviors reflect critical elements of smart shopping: information search and organizing activities. Finding discounts requires time and effort. Smart shoppers will typically engage in ongoing information search in which they monitor both out-of-store and in-store promotional information. They are more likely to pay attention to sales promotions in the media, seek out pricing information in consumer magazines, and engage in store browsing. During in-store purchasing, they tend to exhibit price monitoring behaviors such as searching for store coupons or asking store personnel for information. As a result, they are more likely to locate promotions, find quality merchandise at reduced prices, and engage in more in-store price negotiation than other individuals. Moreover, organizing activities such as developing shopping lists, budgeting groceries, and calling to check product availability and prices represent behaviors that lead to finding better prices.

Smart Shopping Evaluations

The third aspect of smart shopping is the evaluative consequences of a shopping experience. Recent research has identified two primary dimensions of consumption-related evaluations: utilitarian and hedonic (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982). Previous research has focused on shopping’s utilitarian aspects. For example, Stone’s (1954) taxonomy identified economic consumers, shoppes who regard shopping as "work" and seek shopping efficiency. In the case of smart shopping, this would include the value of the alternative uses of money saved versus the alternative purchases which would be foregone.

Hedonic evaluations reflect shopping’s potential for emotional and entertainment worth (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982). Compared to shopping’s utilitarian aspects, hedonic values derived from shopping experiences that result in price savings include competence or a sense of accomplishment (Schindler 1989). Clearly, shoppers can experience both utilitarian and hedonic responses to price savings. Consider, for example, a consumer who is accompanied by a "shopping buddy" and finds the product that motivated the shopping trip at the first store visited and at a very low price. This is likely to elicit both types of evaluations. Utilitarian is represented by the ease of acquisition and hedonic because the bargain may be a source of pride and accomplishment which can be shared with another person.

Attribution of Responsibility for Price Savings

A central element in activating smart shopper’s utilitarian and hedonic evaluations is whether a consumer feels "responsible" for getting the discount or savings. Schindler (1989) tested the idea that attribution of responsibility affects consumers’ satisfaction from a purchase. He found that consumers were more satisfied with having received a discount if they felt responsible for having found that discount than if they received the same discount based on luck or some other external factor (e.g., receiving in-store coupons from a cashier). Given the goal-directed nature of smart shopping, the attribution shoppers make to themselves for finding a shopping bargain is likely to accentuate the positive consequences of their actions.


The nomological net of the smart shopping trait is examined with two sets of hypotheses. First, as proposed, smart shopping should be positively related to a series of marketplace skills and behaviors that include: (1) marketplace knowledge, (2) information monitoring, (3) pre-purchase organization, (4) in-store price evaluations, and (5) couponing behaviors. Operationally, the hypotheses will be tested by (a) the correlation of smart shopping with the relevant behavior and (b) regression analysis, i.e., by the additional contribution of smart shopping on the dependent variable after partialling out the effects of three relevant market-involvement scalesCmarket mavenism, value consciousness, and coupon proneness.

As defined by Feick and Price (1987), market mavenism is a trait that assesses "the degree to which an individual has information about many kinds of products, places to shop, and other facets of markets, and initiates discussions with consumers and responds to requests from consumers for market information." As such, market mavenism is similar to smart shopping in many respects. Market mavens tend to be involved in the planning of preshoppig activities such as shopping with ads, budgeting groceries, and using coupons (Price, Feick, and Guskey-Federouch 1988), have been shown to enjoy shopping, and to use the mass media as an information source (Feick and Price 1987).

Coupon proneness is defined as "an increased propensity to respond to a purchase offer because the coupon form of the purchase offer positively affects purchase evaluations" (Lichenstein, Netemeyer, and Burton 1990). Similarly, smart shoppers are posited to exhibit a heightened sensitivity to coupon usage. However, the extent to which consumers view couponing as a means rather than an end to effective shopping may point to the difference between being a smart shopper or simply being coupon prone.

Value consciousness has been conceptualized as reflecting "a concern for price paid relative to quality received" (Lichenstein, Ridgeway, and Netemeyer 1993). The idea that some consumers hold more accurate perceptions of the relationship between price and quality is also central to the concept of a smart shopper. However, value consciousness is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for smart shopping.

Smart Shopping Skills and Characteristic Behaviors

Marketplace knowledge. As with market mavenism, marketplace knowledge is purported to be a cornerstone of smart shopping. Thus,

H1: After taking into account market mavenism, smart shopping explains a significant amount of variation in marketplace skills and knowledge such as (a) knowledge about products, places, and sales, (b) expertise in product prices, and (c) knowledge regarding which is the best brand to buy.

Monitoring Promotion-Related Information. Similar to market mavenism, smart shopping reflects a general interest in the marketplace and manifests itself through an ongoing search for prepurchase information. Smart shopping is likely to be more goal-oriented and focused on price saving information surrounding a specific purchase situation such as sales announcements, reading consumer magazines, and collecting in-store coupons. Since market mavenism and coupon proneness both lead to these type of searches,

H2: After taking into account market mavenism and coupon proneness, smart shopping explains a significant amount of variation in behaviors related to the monitoring of promotion-related information such as (a) attending to ads for sales announcements, (b) reading consumer magazines, and (c) searching for in-store coupons.

Prepuchase Organizing Behaviors. As mentioned earlier, an important characteristic of smart shopping is the tendency to collect and organize shopping information. These planning behaviors are also the trademark of value conscious and coupon prone consumers. Hence:

H3: After taking into account value consciousness and coupon proneness, smart shopping explains a significant amount of variation in prepurchase organization behaviors such as (a) use of shopping lists, (b) budgeting groceries, (c) tracking expiration date on coupons, and (d) planning shopping trips with coupons.

Price Evaluation Behaviors. The term smart shopping connotes that consumers are willing and able to undertake price evaluations that depend on memory search, complex mental computations, and/or physical search activities. This study focuses on the overt search aspects of price evaluation. Thus,

H4: After taking into account value consciousness, smart shopping explains a significant amount of variation in behaviors related to price evaluation such as (a) comparing "unit prices," (b) watching the checkout scanner, (c) checking prices for low-priced items.

Couponing Behaviors. Smart shoppers’ involvement in the marketplace and desire to achieve transaction savings should be manifested in money-saving marketplace behaviors. Since couponing is the most frequently used sales promotion device, we expect smart shopping to provide a unique contribution in explaining this behavior.

H5: After taking into account coupon proneness, smart shopping explains a significant amount of variation in coupon behaviors such as (a) percentage of coupon usage, (b) number of coupon used, (c) value of coupons redeemed.

The Role of Attribution of Responsibility in the Consequences of Price Saving

We propose that when a shopper feels responsible for taking advantage of a price discount, smart shopping tendencies will be related to positive consequences derived from that shopping trip.

H6: When consumers feel responsible for price savings, smart shopping is positively related to (a) utilitarian evaluations, (b) hedonic evaluations, and (c) satisfaction from the shopping experience.



A total of 228 subjects participated in the main study: 192 business undergraduates at a Midwest public university and 36 evening MBA students at a private Midwest university.

Procedure and Instruments

The research materials were enclosed in a booklet entitled, "Shopper Survey," and distributed to subjects prior to a scheduled class meeting. The subjects responded anonymously and at their own pace.

Smart Shopping Items. In the survey’s first section, subjects were asked to respond to a set of 39 items designed to measure the smart shopping construct. These items were screened from an initial pool of 52 items generated to reflect our conceptual definition of the smart shopping concept and generated through in-depth interviews and a perusal of newspapers, trade publications, and academic literature using relevant key terms (e.g., "smart shoppers," "savings," "bargain hunters,"). The items were assessed using 5-point Likert scales ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5).

Shopping Behaviors. In section two, subjects were instructed to provide frequency estimates (using 5-point scales, 1=never, .. 5=very often) for several shopping behaviors: using shopping lists, budgeting groceries, planning shopping trips with coupons, reading consumer magazines such as Consumer Reports, seeking out the advice of friends regarding which brand to buy, spending time talking with friends about products and brands, paying full price for merchandise, paying attention to TV ads when something ison sale, and going to stores just to browse. They were then asked about the frequency of the following behaviors: number of stores visited in a typical week, percent of shopping trips using coupons, number of coupons used in a typical week, value (savings) of coupons used in a typical week, number of coupons given in a typical month, and number of coupons received in a typical month.

Shopping and Market-Related Traits. In the third section, subjects responded to four scales designed to measure individual shopping and market-related traits. Using a 5-point Likert scale (ranging from strongly disagree "1" to strongly agree "5"), subjects responded to items designed to measure the three shopping-related traits: market mavenism (Feick and Price 1987; six items; alpha=.83), coupon proneness (Lichtenstein, Netemeyer and Burton 1990; eight items; alpha=.88), and value consciousness (Lichtenstein, Netemeyer, and Burton 1990; seven items; alpha=.86).

Attribution of Responsibility for a "Smart Purchase". In the fourth section-entitled A Recent Shopping Experience-subjects were randomly assigned to either a "smart purchase" or a "routine purchase" scenario. This was accomplished through elicitation instructions. Subjects in the "smart purchase" scenario were asked to think about a recent purchase in which they got a bargain and for which they were responsible (i.e., visited several stores, compared prices, or talked to a knowledgeable friend) for the discounted price. Subjects in the routine scenario were asked to consider a recent purchase (without any mention of price savings or responsibility). For both scenarios, participants were asked to list the name of the product or brand they purchased, to estimate its price, and to briefly describe how they collected the information for purchasing it.

Shopping Evaluations: The remainder of the materials were identical for both groups. First, subjects provided utilitarian and hedonic evaluations of the shopping experience using a 25-item seven-point semantic differential (Mano and Oliver 1993). Varimax analysis revealed three factors with eigens greater than one (12.00, 2.83, and 1.48; explained variance=65.3%). The decrease in eigenvalues indicate the predominance of two factors. The constrained-to-two-factors solution revealed a hedonic and a utilitarian factor. Two scales were used in subsequent analyses: hedonic (items: nice, pleasant, exciting, agreeable, interesting, positive, appealing, fascinating, desirable, wanted; alpha=.86), and utilitarian evaluation (valuable, relevant, important, means a lot to me, of concern to me, matters to me, significant, useful, beneficial, needed, essential, vital, and fundamental; alpha=.95).

Purchase Satisfaction: Subjects rated their satisfaction with the purchase with a single 11-point unipolar item ranging from 0% (dissatisfied) to 100% (satisfied). Lastly, subjects provided general demographic and background information.


Smart Shopping Scale Development and Validation

Item Selection and Initial Validation. Factor analysis of the 39 items provided initial validation for the smart shopping measure. Principal components analysis evealed one main factor (eigenvalue=10.1, 26% explained variance) widely separated from the second factor (eigenvalue=2.3). Based on content analysis, factor analyses, and validity checks, seven items were included in the smart shopping scale (see Table 1).

Consistent with our conceptual definition, these items reflect the various aspects of the effort invested in acquiring and using information necessary for attaining price savings. As defined, smart shoppers invest effort in collecting promotion-related information (e.g., gather information before shopping, browse stores just to get information), make it a point to learn about promotions (keep abreast of sales), engage in activities aimed at finding bargains (investing effort in preparing for shopping trips, waiting until an item is on sale, shop for specials), and effectively seek and attain price savings (find top quality products at discounts).

The one factor confirmatory factor analysis of the seven items showed strong improvement in fit over the null model (null model c2=494, d.f.=21, p<.0001; one factor model c2=60.6, d.f.=14, p<.001; c2 difference between models=423.4, d.f.=7, p<.0001; all t-values significant<.0001; Tucker and Lewis index=.86) suggesting unidimensionality. Item-to-total correlations ranged from .61 to .78 and the scale’s reliability was high (alpha=.91). The mean of the smart shopping measure on a 5-point scale was 3.04 (s.d.=.69).

Discriminant Validation. To further examine its validity, the seven-item smart shopping scale along with the items from the coupon proneness, value consciousness, and market mavenism scales were subjected to principal components and maximum likelihood factor analyses. As mentioned, the other three scales measure individual traits closely related to the proposed smart shopper construct. The results supported the four-factor solution (null model c2=3174, d.f.=378, p<.0001; four factor model c2=634, d.f.=270, p<.001; c2 difference between models=2904, d.f.=108, p<.0001; all t-values significant<.0001; Tucker and Lewis index=.84). As required for discriminant validity, each scale emerged as a distinct factor whereby each scale’s items loaded strongly on one single factor (>.46) and weakly (<.44) on the other three.



In separate analyses, the fit of correlated two factor models of the smart shopping and each of the other three scales was examined using LISREL. As required for construct validation, in all three cases, the correlation between the construct pairs was significantly less than one and the confidence intervals around these correlations did not include the value of one. Taken together, these results suggest that the smart shopping scale is unidimensional and internally consistent.

Further Scale Validation-University Staff Sample

To further validate the scale, we conducted a separate survey with a more representative sample of university employees. After eliminating 12 of the original 39 items, a one-page questionnaire (accompanied by a cover letter and a self-addressed envelope) containing 27 items and a few background questions was mailed to 468 staff members at a large Midwest university. Of the 468 questionnaires mailed, 225 (48%) were returned. The participants were primarily female (76%), averaged 14 years of formal education and were considerably older than the student sample (42.3 vs. 26.5 years).

Suportive of construct validity, factor analysis of the 27 items revealed one main factor with an eigenvalue of 9.1 (34% of the variance) widely separated from the second factor (eigen=2.6). Moreover, the seven items selected in the initial sample also loaded heavily (and in similar order) in the validation sample (Table 1, column 2). A one-factor model confirmatory factor analysis of the 7 items (c2=60.6, df=14, p<.0001) showed very strong improvement over the null model (c2=494, df=21, p<.0001; between models c2 difference=437, d.f.=7, p<.0001; Tucker-Lewis index=.86). Item-to-total correlations ranged from .60 to .78 and the scale’s reliability for the validation sample was .89. The scale mean was 3.08 (s.d.=.70; there were no differences in scale means between the two samples, t=1.2, p>.05).

Hypotheses Testing (H1-H5): Nomological Net

Table 2 shows the simple correlations with smart shopping and the regression analyses (standardized coefficients and R2) after the relevant scale(s) were jointly used in the predicting the dependent variables. The simple correlations of smart shopping with each dependent variable were all significant (ranging from .15 to .50), thereby providing initial support for H1-H5. F-tests reveal that all regression equations were significant (p<.05).

The concept of smart shopping explicitly includes possession of general market knowledge. H1 posits that when the effects of market mavenism are taken into account, smart shopping will still have a considerable impact on market knowledge related to products, prices, etc. For each of the three measures of marketplace knowledge, the regression coefficient was significant. In fact, the smart shopping coefficient was higher than the corresponding market maven coefficient for each dependent variable.

H2 states that smart shopping will significantly explain promotion monitoring behaviors. After controlling for market mavenism and coupon proneness, smart shopping was a significant predictor of paying attention to TV ads and searching for coupons in stores. Despite a moderate bivariate relationship (r=.16, p<.05), the regression did not support the effect on reading consumer magazines such as Consumer Reports (Beta=.10, p>.05).

H3 predicts that smart shopping explains prepurchase organizing behaviors after controlling for the effects of coupon proneness and value consciousness. Smart shopping was a significant predictor for two coupon-related prepurchase activities, tracking coupon expiration dates (Beta=.13, p<.05) and planning shopping trips with coupons (Beta=.14, p<.05). However, budgeting groceries and use of shopping lists-while positively correlated with smart shopping (p<.05 and p<.01)-failed to reach significance. For these two behaviors, value consciousness appears to make the most contribution. Thus, H3 is partially supported.

There is also support for smart shopping’s contribution in explaining price evaluation behaviors (H4). Smart shopping is a significant predictor for watching checkout scanners (Beta=.32, p<.01) and checking prices for low-priced items (Beta=.20, p<.01). Despite the high correlation (r=.35, p<.01), the item "comparing unit prices" failed to reach significance in the regression equation. For this particular behavior, it appears that smart shopping explains little unique variance when value consciousness is taken into account. H4 is therefore partially supported.

The idea of smart shopping suggests that some consumers may rely on consumer promotions to realize price savings. H5 proposes that smart shopping will explain various couponing behaviors after taking into account coupon proneness. For each of the three reported couponing behaviors (percent of time using coupons, number of coupons used/week, and dollar value of coupons redeemed/week) smart shopping was a significant predictor (all p’s<.01), thereby supporting H5.



Hypotheses Testing (H6): Attribution of Responsibility Effects

Manipulation Check. To avoid demand artifacts, a manipulation check was conducted with a separate pretest sample of 85 students randomly assigned to either of the two purchase scenarios. Subjects listed the product/brand they were thinking about, its price, and how they collected information prior to making the purchase. Subjects then rated (on a 5-point Likert scale) the extent to which they "felt like a smart shopper," "felt responsible for finding the bargain," or saved money. Next, subjects provided estimates of the percent savings based on the regular price. Supporting the manipulation check, subjects in the "smart purchase" scenario felt more like smart shoppers (Mhigh=4.19 vs. Mlow=3.45, t(83)=3.55, p<.0001), felt more responsible for finding the product, (Mhigh=3.91 vs. Mlow=3.47, t(83)=1.76, p<.05), and saved more money (Mhigh=3.33 vs. Mlow=2.19, t(83)=4.51, p<.0001) than those in the "routine purchase" scenario.

Smart Shopping and Consequences of Shopping Experiences. H6 predicts positive relationships between smart shopping and utilitarian, hedonic, and satisfaction evaluations in the "smart purchase" scenario. As seen (Table 3, last column), the simple correlations with smart shopping provide initial support for H6. Conversely, in the "routine purchase" scenario, correlations between smart shopping and shopping outcomes ranged from .04 to .11 (n.s.).

As noted earlier, H6 has two implications. First, that the simple correlations of smart shopping with the positive consequences in the "routine purchase" scenario would not be significant. As seen above, all three correlations were low and not significant. In addition to this directional support, the between-conditions differences between correlations were significant: utilitarian (.30 vs .03, t=2.08, p<.02, one-tailed), hedonic (.43 vs. .07, t=2.91, p<.01), and satisfaction (.32 vs .11, t=1.65, p<.05). As indicated by the R2s, the effects of the four traits were considerably weaker for the "routine" scenario than the "smart purchase" situation.



Second, we proposed that attribution of responsibility is a critical factor in smart shopping: smart shopping should have a positive effect on these consequences after controlling for the other scales in the "smart purchase" scenario. The results supported this contention. For the "smart purchase" scenario, after taking into account the other traits, the coefficients for smart shopping were positive and significant in explaining utilitarian evaluation (Beta=.27, p<.05), hedonic evaluations (Beta=.42, p<.01), and purchase satisfaction (Beta=.27, p<.05). Taken together, these results provide further support for the proposed framework.


The smart shopping construct was hypothesized to consist of three inter-related concepts: knowledge, behaviors, and post-purchase evaluations. Using a series of methodological approaches, we confirmed the scale’s validity and after controlling for relevant market-related traits, we have shown the scale to have a considerable effect in explaining a series of market behaviors.

Responsibility for attaining a discount was a central factor leading to smart shoppers’ positive evaluations/reactions (i.e., utilitarian, hedonic, and satisfaction) during shopping trips. When consumers felt responsible for saving money because of their own efforts and/or expertise, smart shopping was positively related to these positive shopping-related outcomes.

With respect to utilitarism, the extra value received from a "smart purchase" may be a major motivational factor that increases smart shoppers’ involvement in the marketplace. This view is a departure from studies that focus on consumers who see "shopping as work" or "an errand" and closer to the view which describes utilitarian shopping in terms of success and accomplishment. Smart shoppers may indeed perceive shopping as "work," but take credit for making a smart purchase and value the fruits of their labor.

Lastly, smart shopping was also closely related to hedonic evaluations of shopping when consumers felt responsible for finding bargains. Compared to the functional and goal-directed (e.g., "important", "needed") aspects of utilitarism, hedonic shopping experiences were operationalized as "exciting," "fascinating," and "desirable" and reflect shopping’s potential for entertainment and emotional worth (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982).


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