First, go online and find the website of the company that makes your "whatever." If it's a pair of Tom Ford Sunglasses, or Elie Tahari shoes -- go to that website, find an email address, preferably the customer service contact for the department of your item ("eyewear" or "shoes) but if you can't find something that specific, just look for a general customer service contact, and if you still can't find that, then look for ANY email or phone number you can find.
Next, write to that address (if its not customer service, ask for a contact that deals with individuals not corporations, while explaining your problem). The key is to talk it up. Throw as many compliments for their brand and their product as possible. Tell them how much you adore their sunglasses, and how you get so many compliments on them, you love telling people that they are "Tom Ford" or "Tahari." Then turn the tables and say, I would hate to stop using them, and I am mourning their loss already -- can you please send me a replacement? Or if they are a bit older, "can I get a discount on a new pair? I expected them to hold up longer than this." Basically, lay on the charm, then pour on some guilt and disappointment.
This isn't fool proof. Sometimes you'll get a crappy customer service rep, or a company who has policies in place that prevent you from getting the service you deserve. BUT more often than you would think --- you can get free shit. I mean it. I've done it, and its brilliant.
Case in point: I bought the most gorgeous (and comfortable) pair of knee high, black boots from Elie Tahari (on sale at Macys). I fell in love immediately. You know when that happens? You don't hem and haw over a purchase, instead you know how perfect it will be before you ever get them home. Well that is the love affair that happened between me and the Brady boots. I fell quick and hard. Then after only 3 or 4 times of wearing them, I noticed that one of the decorative buttons (there are 5 on each side) was missing. It had fallen off somewhere...and I was devastated. I knew Macy's was out, but maybe Tahari would send me a new pair? I wrote them, and within a day, I got my response:
Unfortunately we are unable to exchange the boots. We no longer have any stock in this style. The only alternative I can offer to you is to send you some replacement buttons. We would also include a pair of Tahari shoes to compensate for your inconvenience of having to take the boots to be repaired.
I was sad that they were out, but that wasn't their fault, and they were offering compensation. Free shoes! She mailed them and the replacement buttons within the day -- saying they would send me one of their most popular styles in my size. Fair enough. But guess what happened next? A GIANT box came within 4 days -- and there were not 1, not 2, but 3...count them 3...pairs of shoes inside. Over $300 worth of high quality, designer shoes. Two Tahari's (black flats, and gorgeous black suede booties) and one Ellen Tracy (classic, open toed, satin black heels). See pictures of the loot below.
So the moral of the story is....ask and you shall receive. We live in a corporate world...and as much as it might not seem like it...they need us. They need you. They want you to be a repeat customer, they need brand loyalty; and in order to get that, sometimes, they have to make you feel special and important. If you ever get a shoddy product from a reputable company, OR even poor customer service from a store salesman or on the phone...complain. That said, only complain when you have a real reason...when you have legitimately been screwed or taken advantage of...because otherwise you are only ruining it for the rest of us.
My Personal Favorites are these booties.