The nation's major retailers report sluggish October sales increases because of slow back-to-school buying and higher clothing prices that turned off consumers, analysts said.

"The anticipated pick-up that most people thought the industry would have in the fall and back-to-school season did not materialize," said Jeffrey Edelman, a retail analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert in New York.The nation's top three retailers - Sears, Roebuck & Co., K mart Corp and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. - all posted improved October sales from a year ago.

Edelman said the October sales gains - weaker than those of a year ago - resulted from the continuation of 14-month long trend of slow consumer spending.

"I don't think it's anything the retailers are doing or not doing," he said.

Higher clothing prices, fueled by increased costs for natural fibers and a weaker dollar abroad, also contributed to a mediocre retail sales showing, said Sarah Stack, an analyst who follows retailers for Bateman Eichler, Hill Richards in Los Angeles.

"I think the trend that began in September is continuing and that spells an unexciting fall season," she said.

Analysts said the general sluggishness in consumer spending over the past two months points to a less-than-spectacular holiday season for retailers.

Chicago-based Sears, the largest U.S. retailer, said sales increased 7.5 percent during the month with gross revenues totaling $2.51 billion, up from $2.335 billion the year before.

Sales for comparable stores, which exclude sales for stores that were not open one year ago, increased 2.5 percent, Sears said.

The gain reflected particularly strong sales in home electronics, sporting goods and hardware, said Michael Bozic, chairman and chief executive officer.