Department store shoppers may find clerks replaced by vending machines dispensing cosmetics, underwear and stockings early next century, according to legendary retailer Stanley Marcus.

"I think department stores, with some exceptions, are fast becoming obsolete and have to be reinvented for the 21st century," he said in an interview to be published in the November issue of the magazine Palm Beach Illustrated.Marcus, 91, is chairman emeritus of Neiman Marcus.

To compete in coming years, a department store will have to reduce overhead expenses and labor costs substantially, he said in the article. That will let stores devote a bigger portion of their labor costs to products that require fitting or explanation, he added.

For some customers, walking into a store and encountering rows of vending machines could be daunting.

"That's better than being confronted by nobody," Marcus said, "and, most department stores you go into, you're lucky if you can find anybody."