The First Recorded Return Request in History
Rebecca Fox

April 2, 2023

Wherever there’s trade, there will be return requests and complaints. But have you ever wondered how far back this goes?

Let’s take a journey back in time to the first documented return request in history – around 3,000 years ago.

The First-Ever Return Request: The Complaint Tablet to Ea-nasir

The earliest recorded return request in history dates back to 1750 BCE, in the ancient city of Ur in Mesopotamia, on a clay tablet known as the Complaint Tablet to Ea-nasir, written in Akkadian cuneiform.

This tablet is believed to have been written by a man named Nanni, a merchant who had ordered copper ingots from Ea-nasir, a fellow merchant. Upon receiving the goods, Nanni found that the copper was of poor quality. 

In frustration, Nanni wrote a letter in which he detailed his complaints, stating that he had not accepted the copper, but had paid the money for it, and demanding a refund: 

“What do you take me for that you treat me with such contempt? …

… How have you treated me for that copper?

You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory;

it is now up to you to restore it to me in full.”

Full Translation

The complaint tablet to Ea-nasir is a valuable historical artifact as it provides insight into the way transactions were conducted in ancient times and highlights the importance of customer service even back then.

The complaint tablet was discovered in the ruins of the city of Ur, in a house that may have been the residence of Ea-Nasir, and is currently on display at the British Museum

Understanding the Complaint: What it Tells Us About Early Returns

The complaint tablet to Ea-nasir is an excellent example of how returns have always been a part of trade, and provides us with valuable insights into the early history of returns. 

It tells us that customers have always had high expectations of the products they buy and that they are not afraid to voice their dissatisfaction when those expectations are not met. It also shows that merchants have always been held to high standards of honesty and fairness.

While the specifics of the complaint tablet are unique to its time and place, the basic principles underlying it are still relevant today. 

Customers still expect high-quality products that meet their expectations, and merchants are still expected to resolve customer complaints satisfactorily.

Comparing the Complaint Tablet to Modern-Day Returns

Considering that the earliest complaint we’ve found was from 1750 BCE, it’s safe to assume there were others before then – this is just the oldest to have been discovered.

Returns have come a long way since the days of the complaint tablet to Ea-nasir. While the basic principles underlying returns have remained the same, the way they are managed has evolved significantly over the past 3,000 years.

In modern times, thanks to technology, the process of initiating a return request is faster and simpler – to the point where customers can easily initiate a return request online and instantly receive a refund.

The Evolution of Returns Management

Over the past 3,000 years, returns have evolved from a complicated and time-consuming process to a much simpler and more efficient one. 

In ancient times, it was complicated to request a refund. Think about how much effort Nanni had to put into sending his complaint to Ea-nasir, engraving the message into a small clay tablet in cuneiform script and sending it by messenger. The effort put into making it conveys the magnitude of Nanni’s dissatisfaction.

Fast forward to the 19th century, and returns were still a complicated and lengthy process, although less so. Mail-order catalogs, which were popular at the time, enabled customers to order products by mail, which they could only return the same way, if at all. This process could take weeks or months, and it wasn’t guaranteed that the customer would receive a refund.

The 20th century saw the development of new retail technology such as barcodes and point-of-sale systems. While these innovations made returns easier to process in-store, they still demanded a lot of time and effort.

It wasn’t until the rise of eCommerce in the 1990s that returns began to truly evolve. Even then, customers would need to contact the merchant by phone or email to initiate a return, and then merchants would have to process the return manually, which involved a significant amount of paperwork and tracking.

The introduction of digital returns management systems enabled merchants to automate the return process, reducing the amount of time and resources required to process returns. 

Today, returns management systems like ReturnGO are able to handle the entire returns process from start to finish, making returns more efficient and customer-friendly than ever before. 

Customers can initiate a return online with just a few clicks of a button, and merchants can process the return automatically, with the system automatically generating shipping labels and tracking information.

Embracing Returns: A Natural Part of Trade

The complaint tablet to Ea-nasir, dating back to 1750 BCE, shows that customers have been unhappy with their purchases for thousands of years. 

Over time, returns have evolved into a simpler, more efficient process. Today, returns management systems like ReturnGO make the returns process easier and more efficient than ever before.

When we think back to the days of the complaint tablet to Ea-nasir, it’s hard not to wonder what merchants of the time would think if they knew what technology we have now. The ability to automate the entire returns process from start to finish would have seemed like magic to them.

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