IBM Corp’s flagship internet electronic commerce web site, World Avenue will close its doors on July 9 after just over a year of operation. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal the avenue has resembled a deserted street over the past few months, with merchants counting their daily shoppers on the fingers of one hand. A cursory glance at the site yesterday revealed the dilapidated storefronts. The sports section consisted almost entirely of sites to which IBM provides the technology: the NHL, Wimbledon and French Open tennis among them. The computer section was very revealing also. There is just three vendors, two of which are IBM itself, and the IBM Home Computing ‘store’ points to potential shopper away from WorldAvenue to a separate IBM website. And that is the direction IBM sees its internet commerce efforts going in the future, to independent sites. It reckons malls are still viable, but traffic must be directed by a retailer, not a computer company. IBM says it was putting itself between it and its customers, and WorldAvenue was really an anomaly in terms of its overall e-commerce strategy. The company launched World Avenue with great fanfare last June, and spent a lot of time and money promoting it at trade shows last year. But the shoppers failed to show up. IBM says the 17 retailers currently on the site is the most there ever was. America Online Inc on the other hand is planning to expand its internet malls, apparently introducing malls aimed at vertical markets. The difference between AOL and the web of course is that they really are in a closed mall, unlike the web, where users can jump about all over the world with a couple of mouse clicks, which makes it very difficult to keep user’s attention and loyalty. IBM says it currently hosts about 300 merchants’ web sites and will expand its role as an enabler of internet-based e-commerce.