Go online for help: Several companies offer live customer chat on their sites. Others use GetSatisfaction.com to listen and resolve customer complaints.
Use a store or manufacturer's social media services, like Twitter and Facebook. Companies obviously want to squelch issues that can go viral.
Take advantage of the 800 number.
Give a gift alternative. Gift cards always come in handy when you don't really know what to get someone. But even gift cards have return issues. Did you know the famously accommodating Nordstrom ( JWN) won't accept gift card returns? If you're the recipient of unwanted gift cards, sites like Cardpool.com, GiftCardRescue.com and PlasticJungle.com will buy your unwanted gift cards. They do take a cut so you don't get the full value of the original card. Some pay you back a higher rate in Amazon gift cards. Return items in January. Retailers have long been gracious with holiday returns, accepting unwanted gifts weeks after Christmas. Today is no different with companies from Best Buy ( BBY) to Walmart extending return periods into January. This also extends to several online stores including Apple (Jan. 7), Amazon (Jan. 31) and Overstock ( OSTK) (Jan. 31). Also available, the ability to buy online and return in store. Pretty much stores that allow you to order online and pick up in the store (including Walmart, Macy's, Best Buy and The Container Store) also let you return in store so you don't have to hassle with shipping. Hire someone. If time is more valuable than money, hire someone from TaskRabbit to stand in line and return unwanted items. The site already is pushing its team of background-checked TaskRabbits to help with gift shopping (average cost of $57) and gift wrapping ($38). It suggests paying $12 to $20 for simple shopping services. This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.