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Get your map of the mall ready, and your shopping Web sites tagged. Shoppers looking to make the most of this year’s Black Friday need to do some planning, experts say.

The day after Thanksgiving – Black Friday – officially starts the holiday shopping season with its slew of early morning specials and hard-to-beat deals – though many stores have been pushing discounts earlier this season amid a deteriorating economic environment.

But do your homework first, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of shopper-focused Web site Consumer He said some stores this year may keep their best deals secret until the last minute, or they may just offer fewer bargains.

Shoppers should go to retailer Web sites for “secret deals” today through Saturday, he said. They should also evaluate deals and products, read product reviews online and be familiar with pricing, he said.

Also, check opening times and get maps. Figure out which stores are open when, and map it so you can get to the most places at an early time, when many stores are offering the best deals.

SPENDING LESS: The latest shopping survey is throwing more coal on the holiday spending outlook.

Based on a Gallup Inc. poll of about 1,000 consumers, conducted Nov. 13-16, holiday spending this year is expected to drop to $616 per person, the lowest since the research company began tracking this question a decade ago.

About this time last year, the estimate was $866, according to the telephone survey.

Asked directly whether the amount shoppers plan on spending on Christmas gifts this year is more than, less than, or the same as last year, 47 percent of Americans said “less,” the highest response in almost two decades of posing the question.

Gallup noted in its release that over the years, Americans have typically said they were going to spend the same amount on gifts as they did the previous year, but the 46 percent level is low by historical standards. It marks only the second time this measure has dropped below 50 percent in Gallup history.

Associated Press