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Online retail sales continue to surge

More and more shoppers opt to take their transactions online. Some analysts predict even higher spikes ahead.

Online retail sales continue to show significant growth, according to the latest figures released by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Statistics published Friday by the federal agency indicate that e-tail sales reached $15.7 billion in the United States during the second quarter of 2004, a 23 percent increase over the same period last year. E-commerce made up approximately 1.7 percent of the nation's $919 billion in total retail sales, which rose nearly 8 percent from a year ago.

On a quarterly basis, e-tail sales increased nearly 1 percent, from $15.5 billion in the first quarter of 2004.

The online retail market, which recently celebrated its unofficial 10th birthday, has been delivering solid gains for well more than a year. Last year was the most successful period yet for the sector. Revenue for e-tailers reached $93 billion in 2003, a 27 percent increase over 2002.

Some industry watchers have predicted that e-tail sales will continue to spike upward until 2010. Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research recently estimated that online sales will more than double over the next six years, growing from $144 billion in 2004 to $316 billion in 2010.

Among the factors Forrester cited as contributing to the expansion of the online retail market were greater numbers of individual U.S. households adopting online shopping habits, continued retailer innovations and e-commerce site improvements.

Another harbinger of potential growth for the e-tail segment is the sheer number of domain names being registered online, possibly indicating that more businesses are choosing to open up shop on the Web. According to Internet domain registrar VeriSign, registration of .com and .net domain names has grown at least 20 percent in the last year.