Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Haritha Saranga, Yanghua Huang. The Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce (referred as “Alibaba Taobao” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Strategy & Execution. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Strategy, Sustainability.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce Case Study

The case narrates the evolution of the Alibaba Group, starting with Alibaba.com in 1999, in four different phases, with the last phase beginning after its IPO in 2014. The evolution is described from a social sustainability perspective, highlighting Alibaba's initial efforts to help small businesses in China access the world markets and later, its focus on facilitating e-commerce led entrepreneurship in rural parts of China. Not surprisingly, Alibaba Group's evolution coincided with China's economic growth, as the e-commerce platforms have significantly contributed to the growth of businesses and consumerism in China. Specifically, the development of e-commerce ecosystem by Alibaba Group, created a platform where not only retail businesses, but also allied third party service providers could emerge and grow. After its IPO in 2014, Jack Ma, Alibaba Group's chairman, explicitly defined "E-commerce in rural areas" as one of the three strategic directions going forward. The case discusses in detail the two rural initiatives "Taobao Villages" and "Rural Taobao" that the Alibaba group pursued as part of its rural strategy. It is estimated that the e-commerce of Taobao villages created more than 840,000 direct job opportunities and rural Taobao reached 202 counties in 22 provinces and established 9,278 village-level service stations by August 2016. The case also provides a brief overview of the ecommerce industry in India and ends with the questions: if there is a way for e-commerce players to provide socially sustainable business opportunities for the Indian rural population and how Alibaba should plan its entry and growth in the Indian market.

Case Authors : Haritha Saranga, Yanghua Huang

Topic : Strategy & Execution

Related Areas : Strategy, Sustainability

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10003980) -10003980 - -
Year 1 3448597 -6555383 3448597 0.9434 3253393
Year 2 3969419 -2585964 7418016 0.89 3532769
Year 3 3935924 1349960 11353940 0.8396 3304678
Year 4 3225317 4575277 14579257 0.7921 2554753
TOTAL 14579257 12645593

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2641613

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Internal Rate of Return
2. Net Present Value
3. Profitability Index
4. Payback Period

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Alibaba Taobao have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.
2. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Alibaba Taobao shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Strategy & Execution Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Alibaba Taobao often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Alibaba Taobao needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10003980) -10003980 - -
Year 1 3448597 -6555383 3448597 0.8696 2998780
Year 2 3969419 -2585964 7418016 0.7561 3001451
Year 3 3935924 1349960 11353940 0.6575 2587934
Year 4 3225317 4575277 14579257 0.5718 1844085
TOTAL 10432250

The Net NPV after 4 years is 428270

(10432250 - 10003980 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10003980) -10003980 - -
Year 1 3448597 -6555383 3448597 0.8333 2873831
Year 2 3969419 -2585964 7418016 0.6944 2756541
Year 3 3935924 1349960 11353940 0.5787 2277734
Year 4 3225317 4575277 14579257 0.4823 1555419
TOTAL 9463525

The Net NPV after 4 years is -540455

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9463525 - 10003980 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Alibaba Taobao to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Alibaba Taobao has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Alibaba Taobao can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Alibaba Taobao, then the stock price of the Alibaba Taobao should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Alibaba Taobao should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

Negotiation Strategy of Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce

References & Further Readings

Haritha Saranga, Yanghua Huang (2018), "Alibaba - Building a Social Sustainability Ecosystem for E-commerce Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.

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