If you’ve never used an egift card at the store, read this blog post to learn how easy it is to use digital gift cards in stores.
Definition of an eGift Card Code
Simply put, a gift code or a gift card code is the primary number on a gift card. For Visa® or Mastercard® gift cards, the code is typically a 16-digit number embossed in raised-lettering on the front of the card–just like you would see on a debit or credit card. For store gift cards such as Starbucks, Macy’s or Home Depot, however, the gift codes vary in length (likely 16 to 25 alphanumeric characters) and they are typically printed on the back of the cards. Do not confuse the gift code or gift card code with the shorter Personal Identification Number (PIN), Card Value Verification (CVV) or other digits printed on the card for security purposes. You do not need a physical plastic card to redeem a gift code.
While it’s easy to think of using gift codes online because you enter the number into a website’s shopping cart or payment system without presenting a physical plastic gift card to anyone, most people do not realize they can sometimes use gift codes in stores as well. In fact, I just saved a bundle on back to school supplies by ordering a discount Office Max egift card, taking a screenshot of the code and PIN on my smartphone and using the image to pay for merchandise at the cashier.
While your experience may vary, below are all the ways I’ve successfully used gift card codes at the store.
How to Use an eGift Card
To be clear, a gift code can exist with or without a plastic gift card. If I have a gift card in my wallet, for example, and want to use it online, I enter the gift card number into a website shopping cart to make a purchase. If accepted, the card balance is reduced by the sale amount–even though I never swiped the actual card. This is an example of using the number from a plastic gift card. However, if you receive an egift card via email, text message, mobile app, social media or other electronic delivery, there is no plastic to swipe. That doesn’t mean you absolutely won’t be able to use the gift code at a physical location, it just means the cashier may have to key-enter the card number at the register just like you would enter it on a website.
Below are three ways you might be able to use egift cards in stores:
1. Print the eGift Card
An easy way to take an egift card to the store is to print the egift card information (including the number, dollar amount and PIN) on your printer. I’ve done this two ways. The first is simply by printing the email that contained the gift card number. The second method I used when I didn’t receive the code itself in the delivery, but had to claim it via a website. After claiming the code online, I used the Snipping Tool to capture a screenshot of the code and send it to my printer. At the store, I handed the printout to the clerk at the cash register to pay for my purchase.
2. Take a Picture on My Phone
Rather than printing the gift code onto paper, store it as an image on your smartphone. When you get to the cash register, hand your phone to the clerk to key enter the numbers or scan the bar code on the screen.
You can optionally re-access the egift card on your phone by clicking the link in your email again, but I like a screenshot because then I don’t have to worry about the store’s wifi making the process slower. I always get my egift card ready before going to the register to make sure it’s ready to present to the cashier.
3. Use Mobile Wallet
Easiest of all, download a mobile wallet and enter the egift card into your account. Some wallets will convert the code to what looks like a digital version of a plastic gift card and some will even display a bar code that scanners can read. If the retailer card you have isn’t part of the app, you can still enter the number and PIN for safekeeping and easy payment.
What to Tell the Cashier
Gone are the days of asking if customers are paying with “cash, check or charge.” When I hand my phone to the cashier at pretty much any store now, the process is easy. I’ve found cashiers are increasingly comfortable with multiple forms of payment including the paper print-outs, phone images and mobile apps I’ve used. So don’t be afraid to try a gift code at the store. (Don’t be afraid to send egift cards either! Read my advice on how to send egift cards.)
Let me know if you experience anything different. I’ve honestly used egift cards for years–before the cool kids knew about them–and I have never had a problem. But I always get the egift card ready and tell the cashier how I’m planning to pay before everything gets rung up. That just makes it easier. You might always want to avoid the self-check unless you first ask the cashier if mobile payment will work there.
Happy Gift Carding!
~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend