Putting automated logistics systems to work is a lot more difficult than many expect, according to executives who attended a retail automation conference in Dallas last week.

"There's just too much activity," said Ray Heflin, director, Quick Response, Dillards Department Stores Inc., Little Rock, Ark.The gathering, Quick Response '90, drew more than 1,500 retailers, manufacturers, software and hardware suppliers and transportation companies.

Attendance was up by about a third over last year's total, and exhibition space was sold out with a waiting list of would-be exhibitors.

"Everybody's got a better understanding now that people are doing" Quick Response, Mr. Heflin said. The problem is that many companies underestimated the difficulty of putting the technology to work, he said.

Quick Response is a retail version of the Just-in-Time inventory techniques used by automobile and electronics manufacturers.

"A lot of manufacturers are getting on the bandwagon - they're doing it and it's creating bottlenecks at the retailers because of the increased volume," Mr. Heflin said.

Software and hardware are sophisticated enough that dealing with business questions and political issues is a priority, said Bonney Stamper, president, Bar Code Systems Inc., Atlanta. Bar Code specializes in education, consulting and manufacture of quality analysis equipment.

"It's not the technology issues any more; it's the implementation issues," Ms. Stamper said of the difficulties companies encounter with Quick Response.

"People are now convinced that Quick Response is here to stay, and it's going to be the way of doing business in the '90s. But people don't know how to make it happen and aren't making it happen" in many cases, she said.

Quick Response is gaining acceptance in the retailing world. That was evident in both attendance figures and the upbeat attitude of the conference, registrants said.

Several steps must be accomplished before Quick Response can be used. Companies must establish electronic links that allow them to transmit computer messages that replace paper documents. Basic business procedures in terms of buying and selling goods and maintaining inventories must be altered.

Executives at the conference were divided as to whether retailers or manufacturers are having a tougher time putting Quick Response to work.

Both sides have a lot to do, said Eugene Bonnell, management information systems manager, Woolworth Corp., New York.