Ready for Black Friday? Do your homework

Holiday shopping could top $1 trillion

Retailers are rolling out their Black Friday specials, but shoppers may be in for some surprises. 

Consumers are expected to spend an average of $803 each on Black Friday, an increase of almost 8 percent compared with a year earlier, according to RetailMeNot. But while people are planning to spend more, they're still seeking a bargain. Almost nine of 10 say they're looking for deals on holiday gifts, the retail coupon site said in a study. 

As consumers plan their shopping strategies for Friday, they may want to educate themselves on retail trends to make sure they aren't missing out on a deal -- or overpaying for their gifts. Contrary to popular opinion, the best values aren't always available on Black Friday. But at the same time, waiting too long raises the risks of encountering out-of-stock products. 

"The timing of the calendar plays a role in when and where consumers do the bulk of their holiday spending," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry adviser of NPD Group. "It's up to retailers to make the most of the days on the calendar by delivering the promotional value, product offerings, and shopping experience that the consumer desires."

But consumers also need to do their research. Here are five surprises experts say shoppers should be aware of when making their plans for Black Friday. 

Best place to buy Amazon devices may not be Amazon

If you're looking for an Amazon Echo or another Amazon device, the best option may not be Amazon itself. That's because Kohl's is offering many of the devices for the same Black Friday price as Amazon, with the addition of $15 back in Kohl's Cash when consumers spend at least $50. Kohl's Cash is a coupon that lets you spend its face value on store merchandise. 

For instance, the Echo will be sold for $69 at both Amazon and Kohl's Black Friday sales, but Kohl's will also provide a $15 Kohl's Cash coupon. 

There are some caveats, said Sarah Hollenbeck, shopping and retail expert at Blackfriday.com. 

"One thing to keep in mind with the Kohl's Cash is that the deal is valid only through Dec. 5, so shoppers should make sure they have plans to spend it quickly," she said. 

Amazon offers free holiday shipping for all

The other issue to keep in mind is that Amazon is offering an Amazon Smart Plug -- a device that works with Amazon's voice assistant Alexa to add voice control to outlets -- for $5 when shoppers buy an Echo device. The smart plug normally retails for about $25.

"If you're in the market for a smart plug, that could be a better "extra" with your Echo purchase than soon-to-expire Kohl's cash," Hollenbeck noted. 

For some products, it pays to wait until after Black Friday

Some products get cheaper closer to Christmas day, which means you may not find a great bargain on Black Friday. Toys are a prime category where it pays to wait until the week before Christmas, when prices may be slashed by as much as 50 percent, according to NerdWallet. 

Other categories where patience pays are Christmas decorations, bedding (bargains can be found in January) and winter clothing, NerdWallet said. 

In-store pickup and shipping: Do your research

Everyone wants a deal on shipping -- whether that's free shipping or arranging for in-store pickup, which can avoid the hassle of competing with crowds for doorbuster or other sales. But it's important to understand that in-store pickups have some limits.

At Macy's, for instance, in-store pickup may apply only to what's in stock in a particular location, rather than the retailer's entire inventory. In-store pickup is also cheaper for retailers than offering free shipping. 

And speaking of free shipping, not every retailer is offering it this year, which means shoppers should do their research before clicking on "ship to me." Macy's offers free shipping for orders over $99 -- but otherwise charges $10.95 for delivery in the continental U.S.  

Beware out-of-stock products

With a jump in demand, some stores may sell out of inventory. For instance, stores may report being out-of-stock on some electronics like computers, tablets and TVs starting on Thanksgiving Day, according to an analysis from Adobe. Appliances like kitchen mixers could potentially go out of stock on Nov. 25, while apparel is at risk of selling out on Cyber Monday, which is a popular day for clothing sales, it added. 

Don't forget "experiential" gift deals

Consumers increasingly want "experiential" gifts, like bottles of wine, food or event tickets, according to NPD, which found that four of 10 consumer said they would give these types of gifts this year. 

What it takes to shop online without being tracked

That means consumers shouldn't overlook deals from subscription services like Amazon's Audible or travel deals. For instance, what's termed "Travel Deal Tuesday" -- Nov. 27 -- is one of the best days of the year to buy airline tickets, according to analysis site Hopper. 

It's forecasting that tickets to London will be available at a 41 percent discount from their typical price. Airlines such as Icelander and Cathay Pacific are also planning to offer deals on Nov. 27, Hopper said.