"This could be the worst Christmas ever," one analyst told CBS Marketwatch.

Bah humbug. Maybe it's a blue Christmas for him and investors in Wal-Mart(NYSE: WMT), Kmart, J.C. Penney(NYSE: JCP), Federated Department Stores(NYSE: FD), Gap(NYSE: GPS), and Best Buy(NYSE: BBY), which are reporting less-than-bright holiday sales. But with December retail expected to flag in 5.5% lower than last December, retailers are expected to pull out all the stops to get you and your not-yet maxed-out credit card in the door to snap up the dregs of Christmas merchandise. They've gotta make room for spring merchandise, after all.

Still, the tougher retail environment also means tougher return policies at many stores. What to do with those three extra coffee grinders and charming needlepoint "Puppies in a Basket" throw pillow that's not quite right in your mid-century modern pad? Here are eight tips to help you make many happy returns!

  • If possible, get the gift receipt from the gift giver.

  • Return the unwanted item ASAP. Wait too long, and that lovely $55.97 deluxe mahjong set may be marked down to $7.99. And that's what you'll get in return.

  • Return the item in its original packaging. Neatness counts.

  • Be willing to exchange the item or accept store credit, if it means you'll get more to spend.

  • Remember to bring the original credit card you used for the purchase if you're returning a gift you bought.

  • Befriend the sales staff. Niceness counts. Employees sometimes use their discretion about whether to allow return/exchange transactions.

  • Avoid peak shopping hours so employees are less frazzled and more willing to work with you. If you hit a brick wall of resentment, try a different location. And remember -- smile!

  • Unable to exchange, get a store credit, or cash back? There's always the fine art of regifting.