Reverse supply chain (RSC) operations have emerged as a critical component of overall supply chain management in manufacturing industries. Yet, relatively little is known about how companies define their approach to managing outsourced RSC operations and how outcomes vary across different approaches. This paper responds to numerous calls in the literature for research that delves deeply into the "how" and "when" (mechanisms and contexts) of RSC operations. Based on within- and cross-case analysis of four manufacturer-3PL dyads, this paper develops a framework and detailed middle-range theory that explains and predicts the way in which different approaches to managing outsourced RSC operations yield different results. By exploring the approach used in each dyad, this research offers managers a rich description of some of the ways that forward thinking on RSC operations can open the door to different potential benefits. The research also contributes to the development of a theory of outsourced RSC operations. Theoretical arguments combined with research propositions provide a wealth of opportunity for future researchers to engage in this topic area.
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