Retail in Asia


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Winnie Ma, President, APAC Region, VF Corporation

Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Winnie Ma, President VF Corporation, APAC Region for apparel, footwear and accessories

A seasoned leader, Winnie Ma was appointed in August 2020 to advance VF Corporation’s business strategy and grow its business in the Asia Pacific region. As President of Greater China & Southeast Asia, she is responsible for elevating VF’s business and brands in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Southeast Asia region. 

Together we discussed the evolution of the omnichannel retail model as a result of the pandemic, the importance of the physical experience in retail, the company’s purpose and its future plans.


RIA: Can you tell us more about VF Corporation’s online and offline presence in the APAC region? You joined the company in the midst of the pandemic, which markets or brands have been the most resilient?

Winnie: Our Asia Pacific business has been a key growth driver for VF Corporation. In January 2021, we announced a transformation plan for our APAC operations. We transitioned our Brands’ center of operations to Shanghai, to forge stronger and closer relationships with consumers in China which is our most important market in the region. We also transitioned the Asia Product Supply Hub to Singapore to enable greater integration across VF’s global supply chain network. We established an additional Shared Services Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to serve as the home for essential activities within our enterprise functions. Finally, we are building Japan and Korea as our influence markets. 

While the pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges and disruption to the apparel industry, it has also accelerated key elements of our strategy, including e-commerce. 

With consumers increasingly prioritising their health and wellness needs, and more people participating in outdoor activities, our multi-brands portfolio is well positioned to capture the growth opportunities in the APAC region. The North Face (TNF) is the leading premium outdoor brand in China and in most Asian markets, posting strong double-digit growth in the past year, despite the pandemic impact. Our Vans brand targets Gen Z consumers, actively engaging young people in creativity and street culture related activities such as skateboarding. Of course, we also have other established brands such as Timberland, Dickies and Kipling, each focusing on different consumer needs and opportunities. Meanwhile, in capturing the new and emerging opportunities around natural fibers and sustainable living, we launched icebreaker® last year in China. Originated in New Zealand, the brand offers high quality premium outdoor apparel with natural merino wool as raw materials. We have already seen a good level of repeat purchases from consumers while the brand is still in the early stage of market development. 

Source: VF Corporation

RiA: The pandemic accelerated businesses’ digital transformation. How digitally mature were VF Corporation brands when you joined the company in 2020 and how has their digital journey evolved in the last two years?

Winnie: A hyper digital strategy is one of the key drivers for our business transformation. We have made significant progress in digital transformation over the past 18 months in Asia Pacific. In order to better serve this fast-growing, technology-driven market with increased speed and capabilities, we established our Digital Hub at the end of 2020 as a key enabler to accelerate our consumer mindset, hyper digital transformation, retail-centric strategy. 

Our Digital transformation can be summarized into four key areas:

1. Data insights and analytics including data intelligence and advanced analytics. This is a key enabler in turbo charging the brands’ performance across product innovation, marketing, sales, and supply chain.

2. Digital product creation and agile supply. This is the capability and tools we have built in partnership with Chinese platform Tmall, covering insights generation, new product creation, product testing and design optimization, and the supply chain quick turn model. 

3. Personalized and precision engagement to improve our marketing efficiency and effectiveness.  

4. Omni-channel strategy. Our aim here is to drive seamless integration online and offline across engagement, commerce and fulfillment. Our pilot with TNF omni-channel fulfillment has delivered incremental revenue for TNF in addition to more satisfactory consumer experience. Our plan is to roll this out to all brands and partners over the coming years. 

The above capabilities have significantly elevated our brand engagement with consumers through data and insight driven product offerings, relevant brand communication and more satisfactory consumer shopping experiences. 

RiA: Can you walk us through VF Corporation’s omnichannel strategy?

Winnie: Although digital transformation is here to stay, physical experiences are still important. VF focuses on an omnichannel retail strategy, which merges both the traditional retail environment of physical shopping with the digital channels of online shopping. 

Our Omni strategy focuses on elevating experience, E2E merchandising, superior services, and seamless convenience. We have also built an Omni Excellence team to drive an efficient end to end Omni process. Our strong partnership with key players in China, e.g. Alibaba partnership for VF one inventory & O2O system, help deliver incremental revenue and higher inventory efficiency. We create differentiated experiences via offline touch points which will benefit the overall mental availability & online social buzz (e.g. The North Face urban ride ski activation at Tai Koo Li shopping mall).

Source: VF Corporation

RiA: Let’s focus on China specifically. What are the challenges of this specific market? Can you elaborate on the partnerships you have built with key players in the market to elevate VF’s business?

Winnie: VF’s five-year growth plan was introduced in 2017 with a sharpened focus on what’s required to become even more consumer-minded and retail-centric. The ‘Distort to Asia’ strategy is part of the long-term plan and focuses on a set of strategic choices including distorting investments to Asia, and China in particular, while at the same time prioritizing digital. 

‘Distort to Asia’ is about driving outsized growth in Asia and accelerating growth in China. The China market has been expanding at a rapid rate in recent years and is expected to benefit in the coming years as diversification efforts accelerate in the region. The plan will fully realize our transformation as a purpose-led, performance-driven, consumer-centric, and hyper-digital company.

We are excited about the opportunities the transformation will bring, especially in the China market, empowering VF to better serve this fast-moving, technology-driven market with increased speed and capabilities. Chinese consumers are tech-savvy disrupters and they are looking for brands that not only provide exceptional products, but a unique shopping experience too. By placing its brands’ center of operations in Shanghai, VF aims to forge stronger and more relevant relationships with Chinese consumers.

The Chinese apparel and footwear market is larger than all other Asian markets combined, making the country a tremendous growth opportunity for the VF brands that operate there. Through investments in Demand Creation and engaging consumers in a relevant and meaningful way, we are confident about achieving our growth ambition in China. 

Our strategic partnership with the digital titans has enabled us to serve Chinese consumers in a more agile and relevant way, through data-driven insights generation and more precise consumer engagement. Dickies, our work-inspired apparel brand, for instance, partnered with TMIC (Tmall Innovation Center) from Alibaba last year to design and develop the top selling apparel products for Dickies during Single’s Day (D11). 

Source: VF Corporation

RiA: Which retail technology are you leveraging to enhance the customer omnichannel experience?

Winnie: Consumer experience involves reach, engage, buy and repeat purchase. 

1. Reach – we use Consumer Data Platform to optimize our efficiency of media exposure.

2. Engage – we use CRM & CDP for personalized message generation and leverage WeChat work & group for remote connections with our consumers. We tested in-store digital engagement utilizing Bluetooth and interactive digital touch screens in selected stores, but we believe human interaction is critical and that’s why we have our VF academy team for retail associate trainings using our self-created WeChat training platform.

3. Buy – we tried Augmented Reality (AR) for online try-on, and an agile inventory system for shared inventory management across channels to minimize unmet demand from consumers. The system also helps to provide flexible fulfilment preferred by our consumers. Of course, mobile payment and related features are in place for consumers’ convenience.

4. Repeat purchase – we use a CRM platform to support our loyalty programs and we’re in the process of building automated Consumer Lifecyle Value management leveraging machine learning. 

RiA: How do you see physical retail evolve in an ever more digitalised world?

Winnie: Store growth will remain an important part of our strategy. We’re constantly optimizing and evolving our store portfolio to make sure we have the right store formats, at the right place at the right time. Store format and expansion needs to be strategically designed for every environment from the natural wilderness to the urban city. For example, in Hong Kong, the North Face presents the best of both the mountain and the city at its new concept store in the K11 Art Mall. As the brand’s Asia Pacific largest store, this first in Hong Kong store is a milestone that gives explorers the ultimate The North Face destination to enjoy an unparalleled product selection across on- and off-mountain collections. In fact, Hong Kongers can relate to this lifestyle well – many are avid weekend hikers and stylish urban explorers in their own right, and there is a vibrant community of professional adventurers. 

RiA: What’s next for VF Corporation in the region?

Winnie: While staying laser focused on our strategies in building powerful brands, we believe in supporting people’s active and sustainable lifestyle for the betterment of people and planet. 

Our brands and products support hundreds of millions of people every day as they enjoy sports, outdoor exploration and leisure activities. Purpose and Sustainability are at the heart of everything we do as our brands build meaningful connections with our customers. Our teams have already made good progress in transforming our purpose into actions. For instance, since 2018, we have been collaborating with Redress – an environmental charity organization based in Hong Kong, to innovate and foster the next generation of forward-thinking, sustainability conscious designers. In fact, the winner of the Redress Design Award 2020, Ngoc Na Thu, was able to apply her circular design concept by working with our Timberland team, and her design was launched in the market for the Lunar New Year 2022 collection. We hope that this collaboration will advocate for more industry leaders to move towards a more circular economy for the betterment of the planet and people.

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We are constantly striving to improve ourselves, especially in the areas of I&D (inclusion and diversity) and Sustainability & Responsibility. Our latest Made for Change report  outlines our continuous leadership in driving measurable, industry-wide progress across areas including greenhouse emissions, sustainable materials, the circular economy and community impact. Our goal is to build VF Corporation to be a purpose-led and performance-driven business that creates value for our shareholders and stakeholders and enables people to live active and sustainable lifestyles.