My experience is from the motorcycle industry so my comments may be irrelevant but I’m just guessing the principals carryover pretty closely to the ebike business or any other business for that matter.
The big difference I see is that the ebike market is still in it’s infancy so there is less consistency in product quality and business practices. With components available to everyone, setting up “assembly” businesses that have low entry costs and potentially high margins is very attractive. As this industry matures, many of these component manufacturers will consolidate and the weaker ones will shake out with time. But for now, it’s still a bit of the “wild west - anything goes” atmosphere out there. For the consumer, unless they are willing to invest a huge amount of time researching the industry and products, it is a very confusing time for them. (I know I just went through Chapter 1 of this experience and still have MUCH MORE to learn) This confusion or lack of knowledge, which is a product of the conditions listed above create opportunities for low cost/quality players to flood the market. These conditions attract smart business people with a short term plan – big marketing investment, low selling prices, low wage sales staff, low cost retail space, little to no service, make a quick buck and then get out Retail Model (and possibly, a variation of this is currently happening on the wholesale Direct to Consumer model – Sondors/Storm). It also attracts the not so savy (Retail Location) business person who opens up a shop, is undercapitalized, doesn’t understand what it takes to run a successful business and closes within a year or two if not sooner. Both of those situations result in a race to the bottom regarding retail pricing. One of them is a strategy while the other is an unhappy consequence of survival by maintaining some cash flow and eventually liquidation. To the OP, I would have to guess that the best pricing deals out there are from the guy going out of business who has some high quality inventory available (that he owns*). But it takes a knowledgeable consumer, willing to be patient for the right deal and willing to work to find that deal. Most consumers don’t have all 3 of those traits. They want it now, they want the lowest price and they will only do limited research. Doing just “some” research can be a dangerous thing and I think that really applies to this ebike market. I consider myself to be very “aware” of ads/marketing campaigns and how they are trying to guide/educate/manipulate me but I recently was stunned by the effectiveness of the Sondors/Storm campaign and how close I came to pushing the button to order one even though it was not the right bike for me. I feel like I was the perfect candidate for this marketing brilliance. I knew just a little about ebikes, I wanted it this spring and for the price it was a no brainer. The only reason I stopped myself from pushing the button was that it’s not the right style of bike that I am looking for but I almost bought one anyway, even though it did not fit how I would use it. Why? – because of the slick marketing campaign, and low $$$ risk. We won’t know for a couple of months how the Sondors/Storm story turns out but even if it meets all of it’s advertised specs and timelines, it’s still not the right bike for me yet I almost bought one on impulse.
I think the really good retailers selling the ebike product do have the skills and experience and mature business model that has been developed by successfully selling non-ebike product. I see this type of retailer having the best potential for long term success in the e-bike business because they have a long term strategy which equates to offering the better quality products, the best trained sales staff and the best customer care during and after the sale which leads to a great reputation and repeat customers. It costs a lot of money to support this model so you can’t be a discounter and offer all this value at the same time. Unfortunately, these “really good retailers” have to endure at a very real cost (test rides and salesman time from the tire kicker low price buyer who’s only goal is getting the best price) and that will always be from somewhere else, from someone who doesn’t have the expense of stocking or servicing the bike…they only have to be good “order takers and fast shippers”. (Lenny in Madison may be an exception or hybrid since he seems to be one of the low price internet dealers but also runs a retail store at a pretty high level from what I have heard)
When it comes to MSRP it is a “suggested” price. Only a few brands out there have successfully enforced a “minimum” price and Apple is the first and only one that comes to mind. The really good ebike manufacturers will do everything in their power to persuade the retailer not to discount because it devalues the brand. To make this work, the Mfg. has to price the bike (MSRP) correctly in it’s category relative to the competition and give an adequate margin to the retailer to make the financial part of this work. I believe in most cases the Retailer can sell the bike for whatever they choose but some have limitations from the manufacturer on advertising prices on social media, TV, radio or print for less than MSRP. And I’m sure some of the more established and higher quality brands that have a retailer going out of business, make sure to take/buy back unsold inventory to protect the value proposition. (*In the Motorcycle business, if a retail location was closing, the manufacturer would take back the unsold new inventory on the floor and distribute it to other dealers before letting the closing dealer sell the inventory at a deep discount or less than cost, thus damaging the perceived value)
Sorry for the ramble here. This is an exciting time for the ebike industry. I’m sure it will look a lot different 5 years from now. I don’t own a bike shop or any business for that matter but my closing here will make you suspicious. We consumers can help move this ebike business into a mature industry more quickly by supporting your local, well run, long term strategy retail shop with a service department and well trained, well paid sales people that ultimately increase the sales price of the bike over the discounters but ultimately educate you on your purchase, helping you to pick the right bike the first time and being around and able to serve you for you next bike decision or service and repairs that you need in the future. This has value too. We consumers often fail to consider this and just focus on price. That kind of thinking fosters a different business model that can result in you getting the cheapest deal but in the long run, not the least expensive deal.
Also a big thanks to Court for this website to help reduce the “consumer confusion” regarding ebikes. It has sure helped me with Chapter 1 of many more to come in my education on this topic.