Using a Theoretical Perspective to Examine the Psychological Construct of Coupon Proneness

Donald R. Lichtenstein, University of Colorado
Richard G. Netemeyer, Louisiana State University
Scot Burton, Louisiana State University
ABSTRACT - Transaction utility theory (Thaler 1985) has recently been used as a theoretical basis for delineating coupon proneness from the correlated, but distinct, construct of value consciousness. This study further examines the relationship between these two constructs by hypothesizing differential relationships between coupon proneness, value consciousness, and several price and deal-related constructs. Results indicate that value consciousness is more strongly related to the use of internal reference prices than is coupon proneness, and this difference is more pronounced when the internal reference price is market price-based as opposed to product utility-based. Differential correlations with other constructs provide further support for the theoretical distinction drawn between coupon proneness and value consciousness based on utility theory.
[ to cite ]:
Donald R. Lichtenstein, Richard G. Netemeyer, and Scot Burton (1991) ,"Using a Theoretical Perspective to Examine the Psychological Construct of Coupon Proneness", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 501-508.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 501-508

USING A THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE TO EXAMINE THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSTRUCT OF COUPON PRONENESS

Donald R. Lichtenstein, University of Colorado

Richard G. Netemeyer, Louisiana State University

Scot Burton, Louisiana State University

ABSTRACT -

Transaction utility theory (Thaler 1985) has recently been used as a theoretical basis for delineating coupon proneness from the correlated, but distinct, construct of value consciousness. This study further examines the relationship between these two constructs by hypothesizing differential relationships between coupon proneness, value consciousness, and several price and deal-related constructs. Results indicate that value consciousness is more strongly related to the use of internal reference prices than is coupon proneness, and this difference is more pronounced when the internal reference price is market price-based as opposed to product utility-based. Differential correlations with other constructs provide further support for the theoretical distinction drawn between coupon proneness and value consciousness based on utility theory.

Most previous research on "deal proneness' or "coupon proneness" has measured these constructs strictly in behavioral terms and attempted to identify variables that are related to a behavioral response to promotional offers. Such dealing research has been criticized due to its lack of a theoretical framework, its lack of conceptual definitions of the key constructs, as well as its focus on descriptive variables (Raju and Hastek 1980). Such problems have led to limited research on the psychological processes that underlie consumer responses to coupon offers (Shimp and Kavas 1984).

A different approach to the study of coupon proneness has been provided recently by Lichtenstein, Netemeyer, and Burton (1990). These authors argue that coupon proneness is but one of potentially many psychological constructs that may have an impact on an individual's response to a coupon offer. They further argue that coupon (and deal) proneness should be conceptualized and measured at the psychological level and viewed as an antecedent of the behavioral response to a coupon. Support for their position was provided by demonstrating that the correlated but distinct construct of value consciousness had a significant effect on coupon-responsive behavior beyond that explained by coupon proneness.

The purpose of this paper is to extend recent research on the coupon proneness construct in three primary ways. First, utility theory (Thaler 1985) implies that consumers high in coupon proneness may establish internal reference prices (i.e., the mentally-stored price against which other prices are judged (Rosch 1975)) in different ways than other consumers. This paper offers explicit hypotheses drawn from utility theory and provides initial tests of some relationships pertaining to coupon proneness, value consciousness, and the basis of the IRP. Second, hypotheses pertaining to the differential relationships between coupon proneness, value consciousness, and some deal-related theoretical constructs are proposed and tested. Lastly, given the previous interest in the association of demographics and behavioral response to coupons, relationships between demographics and the measure of coupon proneness are assessed.

CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND AND HYPOTHESES

Coupon proneness has been defined as "an increased propensity to respond to a purchase offer because the coupon form of the purchase offer positively affects purchase evaluations," while value consciousness has been defined as "a concern for paying low prices, subject to some quality constraint" (Lichtenstein et al. 1990). Combining these definitions with the conceptualization of utility proposed by Thaler (1985) allows a conceptual distinction to be drawn between coupon proneness (CP) and value consciousness (VC). Thaler states that total utility is comprised of (1) acquisition utility (i.e., the economic gain or loss from a purchase transaction) and (2) transaction utility (i.e., the pleasure (or displeasure) associated with the financial terms of the deal, per se). Based on these conceptualizations, Thaler equates acquisition utility to the difference between the estimate of the utility derived from the purchased good and the price paid for the good, and transaction utility as the difference between the internal reference price (IRP) and the purchase price.

If IRPs are largely a function of product utility-related experience (e.g., a fair price based on the need satisfying ability of the product), transaction utility appears to be a function of acquisition utility (i.e., acquisition utility affects transaction utility via the IRP). If, on the other hand, the IRP is based more exclusively on external price information (e.g., price of similar products, price most frequently charged), transaction utility is less dependent upon acquisition utility (Lichtenstein et al. 1990).

Thus, the conceptual equations for acquisition and transaction utility suggest that the use of coupons can increase both types of utility via a lower purchase price. However, Lichtenstein et al. (1990) proposed that beyond affecting both types of utility via a lower purchase price, a coupon will have greater impact on transaction utility than acquisition utility because it also affects the IRP (the component unique to transaction utility), but not the inherent need satisfying ability of the product (the component unique to acquisition utility). The coupon suggests that the IRP should be the non-coupon price. While assimilation-contrast theory indicates that assimilation of the non-coupon price may not increase the IRP to the non-coupon price level, it should increase the IRP toward the non-coupon price (Monroe and Petroshius 1981; Urbany, Bearden, and Weilbaker 1988). Also, by considering Thaler's equations in conjunction with the conceptual definitions of VC and CP, Lichtenstein et al. (1990) argued that because VC is concerned with the relationship between quality received for price paid, VC is more highly related to acquisition utility (inherent need satisfying ability of the product in relation to price paid) than is CP. Alternatively, because CP is more strongly related to the specific financial terms of the deal, it is more strongly related to transaction utility (the IRP in relation to price paid) than is VC.

Hypotheses between VC, CP and several theoretically-related constructs (e.g., price-based dissonance, shopping enjoyment) which have not been assessed in the literature are proposed and tested here based on this rationale. The hypotheses are segmented into three categories. The first two hypotheses address the rationale offered by Lichtenstein et al. (1990) pertaining to CP, VC and two possible bases for the IRP. Hypotheses 3 through 6 concern differential relationships between CP, VC, and several deal/shopping-related theoretical constructs. H7 and H8 concern the relationship between CP and selected demographics. Except for the final two hypotheses, all hypotheses are two-part. The first part hypothesizes a direction between VC, CP and the respective construct, while the second part hypothesizes if the theoretically-related construct referred to in the hypothesis is more strongly related to VC or CP.

VC, CP and the IRP

Because both acquisition and transaction utility encompass a focus on paying lower prices, both VC and CP consumers can be characterized as somewhat more price vigilant than other consumers. Hence, both VC and CP are expected to be positively correlated to the level of use of external market price-based IRPs and product utility-based IRPs. However, the theoretical framework discussed above suggests some differences in the bases of the IRP for the CP and VC consumers. Because of their greater focus on transaction utility (and, hence, greater exclusive focus on price information), it was proposed that CP consumers' IRPs are based more on external market-based prices than are VC consumers. Conversely, because of their greater focus on acquisition utility (and, hence, greater focus on the utility of the product), it was proposed that VC consumers' IRPs are based more on product utility-related factors than are CP consumers. While these conceptual arguments involving the basis of the IRP and its relationship to VC and CP were offered by Lichtenstein et al. (1990), they were not empirically assessed. Consequently, based on the rationale above, we offer the following two hypotheses regarding the differential relationships of VC and CP with market price and product utility-based IRPs.

H1a: The correlations between CP and external, market price information-based IRPs and VC and external, market price-based IRPs are both positive.

H1b: The correlation between CP and external, market price information-based IRPs is greater than the correlation between VC and external, market price information-based IRPs.

H2a: The correlations between VC and product utility-based IRPs and CP and product utility-based IRPs are both positive.

H2b: The correlation between VC and product utility-based IRPs is greater (more positive) than the correlation between CP and product utility-based IRPs.

VC, CP and Deal/Shopping-Related Constructs

Given that purchase price is a component of both acquisition and transaction utility, it seems probable that learning about a lower price after the purchase will create dissonance for both VC and CP customers. Given the importance of purchase price for both VC and CP consumers, price-related dissonance should be positively correlated to both CP and VC. In addition, Thaler's utility theory suggests that CP individuals should perceive more dissonance from learning that the market-based IRP which was used in judging the value of the deal was not valid. That is, learning that other consumers were not actually-paying more and/or that other merchants were not actually charging more should cause greater dissonance for the CP consumer than for the VC consumer. The VC individual will be less affected by such information because the product still is capable of delivering the need fulfilling benefits for which it was purchased.

H3a: The correlations between VC and price-based dissonance and CP and price-based dissonance are both positive.

H3b: The correlation between CP and price-based dissonance is greater than the correlation between VC and price-based dissonance.

One method by which dissonance is reduced is rationalization. Given the importance of purchase price and the dissonance hypothesized above, upon learning that the price paid was not as favorable as initially perceived, positive correlations between VC, CP, and price-related rationalizations may be anticipated. However, Thaler's (1985) utility theory suggests that CP consumers may be more likely to make such price-related rationalizations (e.g., 'The price I paid was still cheaper than that paid by many others") because of the relative importance of purchase price and lesser importance of product utility, compared to VC consumers.

H4a: Given the knowledge that an acted-upon deal price was not as favorable as originally perceived, the correlations between CP and price-related rationalizations and VC and price-related rationalizations are both positive.

H4b: The correlation between CP and price-related rationalizations is greater than the correlation between VC and price-related rationalizations.

Because of their emphasis on low prices and obtaining "good" deals and the positive correlation -found between situational shopping involvement and both CP and VC (Lichtenstein ct al. 1990), it may be hypothesized that both VC and CP consumers will derive enjoyment from the shopping process. Further, Lichtenstein ct al. found a stronger correlation between CP and situational shopping involvement than VC and situational shopping involvement. Given that CP consumers appear more involved with the shopping process itself (i.e., situational shopping involvement), it may be hypothesized that the correlation between CP and shopping enjoyment is more positive than the correlation between VC and enjoyment.

H5a: The correlations between VC and shopping enjoyment and CP and shopping enjoyment are both positive.

H5b: The correlation between CP and shopping enjoyment is greater than the correlation between VC and shopping enjoyment.

The purchase price of a good generally is only one of the costs involved in obtaining the product. There also may be nonmonetary costs that include time costs, travel costs, etc. (Zeithaml 1988). It seems logical to postulate that because of the importance of low monetary price to both VC and CP consumers, the perception of nonmonetary costs as adversely affecting the value of a deal should be negatively related to both (i.e., both types of consumers should feel that getting low prices is so important that nonmonetary costs play a lesser role). However, because CP consumers are hypothesized to be very concerned with the difference between the market-based IRP and the purchase price, as well as more involved in the shopping experience, these other costs may not be given too much consideration. Relative to CP consumers, VC consumers have been shown to be less influenced by situational involvement regarding "getting a good deal" (Lichtenstein et al. 1990), and thus may be more likely to consider a broader range of acquisition-related costs. Based on this rationale, it is postulated that VC consumers will be less willing to accept nonmonetary costs (i.e., to drive further distances, wait in longer lines, spend time clipping coupons) in order to take advantage of a coupon deal.

H6a: The correlations between CP and the perception that nonmonetary costs adversely affect the value of a promoted deal and VC and the adverse effect of nonmonetary costs are both negative.

H6b: The correlation between VC and the perception that nonmonetary costs adversely affect the value of a promoted deal is less negative than the correlation between CP and the perception that nonmonetary costs adversely affect the value of a promoted deal

CP and Selected Demographics

While relationships between demographics and deal proneness (operationalized as a behavioral response to a coupon promotion) often has been examined in previous research (e.g., Blattberg et al. 1978; Levedahl 1988; Webster 1965), when CP is assessed at a psychological level it is not clear that results concerning demographics and coupon usage will extend to the relationship between demographics and CP. Economic factors may play some role in the development of CP because of the need/desire to lower purchase costs. However, while these economic factors may affect the psychological state of CP, it should be noted that such a relationship may not extend to redemption rates due to lower income consumers' lesser ability to locate and organize coupons and the lack of mobility necessary to redeem the coupons (Blattberg et al. 1978; Levedahl 1988). Possible differences in shopping orientations across sex may translate into a relationship between CP and gender. However, at this point, hypothesizing any direction appears premature. Thus, the following hypotheses between these demographic variables and CP are offered in an exploratory manner.

H7: Family income is negatively related to CP.

H8: CP is related to gender.

METHOD

Except for demographic variables, all measures of constructs of interest in the hypotheses were assessed with seven point scales with endpoints ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Measures of CP and VC consisted of eight and seven items, respectively, and were drawn directly from those developed by Lichtenstein et al. (1990). The coefficient alpha reliability estimates were .88 for the CP measure and .80 for the VC measure. The Pearson correlation between the CP and VC constructs was .17 (p < .01). The scale items, along with complete scale develop procedures for the CP and VC constructs, are described in Lichtenstein et al. (1990).

Other constructs of interest in the study were measured with multi-item scales consisting of two to four items. The measure of a price basis for the IRP was a three-item scale that had an alpha of .71. Items used to assess this construct were "In judging if an advertised price represents a good deal I consider the prices other merchants are charging"; "In judging if an advertised price represents a good deal I consider the price of similar or competing brands"; and "In judging if an advertised price represents a good deal I consider he price the product normally sells for." The product utility-related basis for the IRP was assessed with two items (i.e., "In judging if an advertised price represents a good deal I consider the amount of use I will get for the product or brand" and "In judging if an advertised price represents a good deal I consider the quality of the product"). The correlation between these two items was .66.

Shopping enjoyment and non-monetary costs were both assessed with four items and reliabilities for these two scales were .82 and .72, respectively. The shopping enjoyment items were drawn from those proposed by Tauber (1972). A sample item used for the non-monetary cost measure was "The time it takes to find a bargain is usually not worth the effort."

Price dissonance and price dissonance reduction constructs were measured with two items each. The price dissonance items were "I get upset when I purchase an item on sale only to find that I could have bought it cheaper some place else" and "It does not really bother me to pay a certain price for a product and find out later I could have bought it for a lower price elsewhere" (reverse coded). The dissonance reduction items were "When t discover that I could have gotten a better deal on a product, it makes me feel better to know that I still got it cheaper than most everyone else" and "When I find that I did not pay the lowest price possible for a product I will try to convince myself that I got it cheaper than most others did." Correlations between the two items for both measures were .49. All demographics were assessed with single-item measures.

Data were gathered from a convenience sample of 350 respondents residing in a southeastern SMSA. Students were trained on how to administer and answer questions pertaining to the survey. Surveys were administered to non-student respondents who were the primary grocery shoppers for their household. The median age of the respondents was 40.3 years, and the median family income was $34,666. The median education level was 1 year of college and 57% were female. These median age, income, and education levels were similar to those of the SMSA population.

RESULTS

H1 and H2 pertained to the relationship between the basis for the IRP and CP. Following from rationale drawn from Thaler's utility theory, it was predicted that because both acquisition and transaction utility are enhanced by low prices, and based on the hypothesized association of VC with the former and CP with the latter, both VC and CP should be positively correlated with a concern for price, and, hence, more likely to use both external price-based (H1a) and product utility-based (H2a) IRP's. It was further hypothesized that while VC and CP should both be positively related to both IRP bases, CP should be more strongly related to the external price-based IRP (H1b), while VC should be more strongly related to the product utility-based IRP (H2b). Results relevant to the first six hypotheses are shown in Table 1.

With the exception of the nonsignificant (but directionally consistent) correlation between CP and the product utility-based IRP, the correlations between CP, VC and the two IRP bases were positive and significant. Consequently, H1a is supported, while only partial support is offered for H2a. Contrary to H1b, CP was not more strongly correlated than VC to the external price-based IRP, however, consistent with H2b, VC was more strongly related than CP to the product utility-based IRP (.43 vs. .07, t = 5.76, p < .01).

H3a and H3b concerned the relationship between CP, VC, and price dissonance. Because both VC and CP constructs are associated with a concern for paying low prices, it was postulated in H3a that higher levels of both VC and CP would be associated with higher levels of perceived price dissonance. Correlations between VC and price dissonance and CP and price dissonance were .36 (p < .01) and .25 (p < .01), respectively, thus offering support for H3a. However, H3b predicted that the greater correlation would be between CP and price dissonance. The above correlations are in the opposite direction of the one hypothesized indicating that these data do not support H3b.

H4a and 4b concerned price-related rationalizations used by consumers to reduce price-related dissonance. Given an overall concern about price and significant perceived price dissonance, it was hypothesized that both VC and CP would be related to the use of price related rationalizations to reduce dissonance (H4a), but that the correlation would be greater for CP than for VC (H4b). The correlation between price-related rationalizations and CP (r = .29, p < .01) was greater than the correlation between VC and price-related rationalizations (r = .05, n.s.) providing support for H4b (t = 3.92, p < .01). However, the data do not offer support for H4a, given the nonsignificance of the latter correlation.

H5a predicted a positive relationship between VC, CP and shopping enjoyment. As hypothesized the correlations between CP and enjoyment and VC and enjoyment were both significant (r =. 31 and .23, respectively, p < .01 for both correlations, H5a supported). The difference between the two correlations was in the hypothesized direction, but was only marginally significant (t = 1.33, p < .10). These data thus offer weak support for H5b.

TABLE 1

SUMMARY OF RESULTS OF HYPOTHESES 1 AND 6

H6a predicted that the relationship between VC, CP, and perceptions about the adverse effect of nonmonetary costs on the value of a coupon deal would be negative for both VC and CP constructs. Strong support was found for this hypothesis, as evidenced by the respective correlations of -.34 and -.39 (p < .01 for both). However, only directional support was found for the prediction that the correlation between CP and the perception that nonmonetary costs adversely affect the value of a promoted deal would be more negative than the correlation between VC and perceptions about nonmonetary costs (H6b not supported).

A profile of the relationships between demographic variables and the CP measure is shown in Table 2. Offered from a exploratory perspective, H7 predicted a negative relationship between CP and family income, while H8 postulated a relationship between CP and gender. Consistent with H7, CP was significantly related to income (P = 4.55, df = (4,338), p < .01). However, the mean scores in Table 2 show little difference for the middle income categories, with larger CP scores for the low income group (i.e., less than $20,000) and much lower CP scores for the high income respondents (i.e., greater than $60,000). Consistent with H8, CP scores were significantly higher for females (t = 5.30, p < .01), as shown in Table 2.

Although no explicit hypotheses were offered concerning the relationships between age and education and CP, results are shown in Table 2. Neither of the overall relationships are statistically significant; however, for education there appears to be a relatively sharp decline in CP for respondents with graduate degrees. Previous research on the relationship between age and coupon redemption behavior has offered inconsistent results; for example one study has shown that coupon users are younger than non-users, another has indicated that users are more likely to be middle-aged, and a third study reported that coupon users are either young or old but not middle-aged (Levedahl 1988). For the measure of CP used here, although nonsignificant, there was a monotonic negative relationship between age and CP for this particular group of respondents. All interactions between the demographic variables were not statistically significant.

TABLE 2

RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN DEMOGRAPHICS AND CP

DISCUSSION

Eight hypotheses were proposed and tested. The first two hypotheses postulated relationships between CP, VC, and two possible bases for the IRP. H3 through H6 offered predictions about differential relationships between CP, VC and several shopping and deal-related constructs. Results displayed mixed support for the six hypotheses. The last two hypotheses were exploratory and looked at the relationship between CP and demographic variables.

Because of the explicit role of the IRP in Thaler's utility theory, H1 and H2 are seen as critical in assessing the applicability of Thaler's theory to the domain of CP. The joint prediction of H1a and H1b was-that CP and VC would both be positively related to the use of an external price-based IRP, but that CP would be more strongly related. The joint prediction of H2a and H2b was that CP and VC would both be positively related to the use of a product utility-based IRP, but that VC would be more strongly related. Taking H1 and H2 in conjunction, only mixed support was found. However, considering both H1 and H2 jointly also suggests that the rationale on which they are based may have been stated too strongly, but appears reasonably valid.

That is, results relevant to H1 and H2 suggest that VC is more strongly correlated to the use of IRPs, in general, than is CP. Although the correlations between VC and the two IRP measures were higher than the respective correlations involving CP, the magnitude of the difference was much greater for the product utility-based IRP measure (i.e., difference in correlations = .21 and 36 for H1b and H2b, respectively). Hence, when viewed relative to H2, the correlations involving H1 do appear to make some sense. It may be that VC individuals, in general, have (or make use of) IRPs to a greater degree than CP individuals, but more so for product utility-based IRPs than for external price-based IRPs.

In retrospect, the results regarding the stronger correlation between VC and the use of IRPs in general appears consistent with the suggestions of other researchers. For example, Henderson (1988) suggests that consumers with a "coupon primacy" have a strong "commitment to a coupon" that prevents attention to other factors such as net lowest price (requiring external price information) or best value for the money (requiring price and product utility information (cf. Monroe and Petroshius 1981)). Similarly, Zeithaml (1988) found that some consumers use coupons as extrinsic signals of good deals without actually comparing the reduced price of the couponed brand with the prices of other brands. CP consumers may follow well-defined "scripts" that result in very minimal attention and processing of information that is highly relevant to other consumers (Gardner and Strang 1984, p.421). Consequently, consistent with these perspectives and our findings, there may be a "coupon commitment" among a certain consumer segment that leads the consumer to focus directly on coupon possession, while diminishing consideration of non-coupon decision-related factors, perhaps including the use of a memory-based IRP. That is, compared to VC consumers, CP consumers may be less likely to incorporate previous marketplace information into IRP points that they use in evaluating a market price, and instead rely more upon the (heuristic) information offered directly from the coupon.

Results pertaining to H3 though H6 demonstrated that VC and CP have significant but differential relationships with other shopping and deal-related constructs. These results support the discriminant validity of the constructs.

Researchers that have examined the relationship between demographics and coupon redemption behavior may be interested in these demographic results for the psychological measure of CP examined here. Results differ from some previous findings that have shown a positive relationship between coupon redemption behavior and family income. In this study there was a large drop-off in CP for respondents with family incomes in excess of $60,000 and post-graduate degrees. Also, males were lower in CP than females, an although not significant, there was a negative monotonic relationship between CP and age.

Implications For Future Research

When compared to the correlations between VC and the bases of the IRP, the relatively weak correlations between CP and the IRP bases suggest some intriguing research questions. For example, given the lack of a strong basis for the IRP, in the absence of a coupon, these results may suggest that CP consumers may be more vulnerable to other promotional techniques (e.g., reference price advertisements) designed to impact the IRP. Similarly, given the much stronger correlations between VC and the bases for the IRP, it may be postulated that promotions designed to affect the IRP may be relatively less successful for VC consumers. While there is a great deal of interest in the effects of advertising a reference price (cf. Urbany et al. 1988) and whether such ads are used to illegally deceive consumers (Colorado vs. May Department Stores 1989; Maryland vs. Hecht Company 1989), research has rarely focused on whether certain segments of the population are more likely to be deceived by such ads.

In general, results of this study suggest the need for the specification and testing of more complex theoretical models of deal-related processes that include both CP and VC, as well as other psychological antecedents. Future research also may explore the underlying cause of the significant relationships between CP and demographics.

Limitations

There are several limitations concerning some of the measures employed in this study. Measures of two possible bases of the IRP were used, but it may be argued that there are other possible bases for the IRP that have been ignored (Klein and Oglethorpe 1987). Because of the variety of possible IRPs and the uncertainty about the cognitive process used by any individual to formulate any specific IRP, any measure may be considered exploratory and its degree of validity questioned.

The correlations between the individual items used to measure some of the other constructs in the study were lower than desired. Specifically, for price dissonance and price dissonance reduction, only two items were used to measure each construct, and in both cases the correlations between the items were only .49. Mixed results were obtained for hypotheses concerning these constructs; stronger results possibly may have been found with better measures.

A convenience sample was used in the study and thus results may not be generalized to any specific population. While this sample does not seem inappropriate given the primarily theoretical nature of the study, practitioners interested in the effects of CP, VC, and other psychological variables on coupon usage behavior will have an interest in future research that uses probability samples that may be generalized to a specific population.

Despite these limitations, this study offers several findings that researchers concerned with price perceptions may view as interesting. In particular, we feel that results concerning the relationships between CP, VC, and the basis of the IRP are of theoretical importance and suggest several directions for some intriguing future research.

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