The latest data from the U.S. Department of Commerce further bolsters what we have all suspected: E-commerce sales are increasing. Not only might one suspect that consumer confidence has been bolstered since last year, there are currently far fewer barriers to shopping via the Web than was previously the case.

According to the Washington Post, online sales have increased 23.1% since the comparable quarter last year to a grand total of $15.65 billion between April and June.

Meanwhile, the sector still has plenty of room to grow; online sales represent a mere 1.7% of all retail sales. (That's slightly down on a sequential basis, as the quarter before clocked in at 1.9% -- but with summer vacations and other activities, most people probably have ample opportunity to unplug and purchase in the "real world.") Overall retail sales increased 10.1% in the quarter.

In June, my Foolish colleague Rick Munarriz examined similar data. As we have discussed before, lots of folks are upgrading their computers with more memory and processing power than many even need. A recent survey suggested that a bit more than half of all Web surfers have made the switch to broadband.

Rick also made the point that daunting gas prices may give some shoppers more reason to browse and buy from home (with the caveat that, at some point, we all foot the bill for rising fuel costs).

Companies such as (NASDAQ:AMZN), (NASDAQ:OSTK), and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) are becoming tried-and-true parts of people's shopping experiences and likely will continue on their upward trajectory. The rising popularity of e-commerce also explains why Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) have been among those who have made pushes into comparison shopping.

Such an environment could improve many fortunes; the economic climate is one reason why I launched a defense of Hidden Gems pick RedEnvelope (NASDAQ:REDE).

Meanwhile, the many bricks-and-mortar retailers that have initiated online shopping sites should be rewarded for their efforts soon. This week, The New York Times reported that Vogue is enhancing its website to allow shoppers to buy the fashions and cosmetics included in its September issue, bridging the gap between its print and online versions.

One barrier, however, may be recent concerns about Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer's security issues, though I suspect many people trying to conduct safer Web shopping have likely switched to Mozilla's Firefox browser or one of the other non-Microsoft options available for the download.

Today's word is just another example of how far we've come since the Commerce Department first began tracking the data (Internet shopping represented only 0.7% of retail sales in 1999, baby). If trends continue, it bodes well for new and old alike in the realm of online shopping.

Amazon and eBay are both longtime Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. What other stocks click with the Gardners? Try it for six months, risk-free.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Amazon is probably her favorite shopping venue, as it always has the books and music she's looking for, regardless of how obscure.