For the seventh consecutive month, retail sales fell in January. When that string reverses it will be a positive sign. But more important will be any shift away from discounters like Wal-Mart and Dollar General towards specialty or higher end stores like Nordstrom or Saks. "That would be a sign consumers are starting to feel better about the economy in general and their own prospects in particular," says Richard Moody, chief economist at financial firm Mission Residential in Austin, Texas. You can track retail sales at www.census.gov. But it might be just as useful to pay attention to monthly financial reports, comparing the trend at Wal-Mart with the trend at Nordstrom. Who's doing better or worse than expected? The last year or so has been a Wal-Mart story. Watch for a shift.