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What is a Digital Gift Card? [Updated Nov. 2023]


What is a digital gift card and how does it differ from a physical one? A digital gift card, also known as an e gift card, is essentially a paperless card. It’s delivered to the recipient’s email address and redeemed online or in-store using a code. Many online gift cards also come with a barcode a sales associate can scan from a smartphone. 

While a virtual gift card has distinct advantages over a physical card, there are some things to watch out for. You always want to double-check for email address accuracy and verify receipt. Let’s look at the answer to what is a digital gift card and its pros and cons.

What Are a Digital Gift Card’s Main Features?

First, an e gift card isn’t something you can physically give another person. The company that issues the card delivers it to a designated email address. Within that email is an e gift card number and pin or validation code. Often, there is also a barcode underneath those numbers.


People can print out the barcode to present in a store or show a copy of the barcode in the email from a mobile device. However, not all online gift cards are redeemable in brick-and-mortar locations. Some are only redeemable online through the merchant’s website. 


But like physical gift cards, you can purchase digital gift cards in specific amounts. So, it’s entirely possible to buy a $20 virtual gift card for a friend and a $50 online gift card for a family member. A digital gift card is replaceable if someone loses the email message or barcode. However, if the card is successfully delivered to the wrong address you’re usually out of luck.

Cons of Online Gift Cards

Digital gift cards may offer convenience, but they also have drawbacks. For starters, you’ll usually be charged instantly. There’s no delay or waiting until a physical gift card ships for the charge to show up on your credit card. Second, you have to be absolutely certain the email address you type in is correct.


Slight variations or typos mean the gift card you intended to send to a friend or family member ends up in a stranger’s inbox. If they use it (and why wouldn’t they?), you and your intended recipient have little recourse. The online store did exactly what you asked.

green code on a black screen
quotation marks

When a paper or plastic card becomes lost or misplaced, it’s nearly impossible to reissue or locate it.

Another drawback is you may have to reach out to the other person to verify they received your gift. Some vendors will verify an online gift card successfully reached an email address. But it’s common for people to overlook and accidentally delete messages. If someone doesn’t know to be on the lookout for a virtual gift card, they might never get to use it. 


Other drawbacks of digital gift cards include:


  • More difficult to keep track of
  • Some can only be used online
  • Recipients may have to type in exact numbers to redeem
  • Some link to gift card numbers and barcodes, creating added inconvenience
  • A few e gift cards lose money from the balance if they’re not used within specific timeframes

Pros of Virtual Gift Cards

Now that you know some of the cons of online gift cards, it’s time to look at their advantages. Most notably, a digital gift card creates less waste. The person you give the card to doesn’t have to worry about throwing away a physical card or cutting it up before throwing it in the trash. They also don’t have to keep a physical card in a safe place.


When a paper or plastic card becomes lost or misplaced, it’s nearly impossible to reissue or locate it. You often eliminate this problem with a digital gift card as long as the person knows to look for it and organize their inbox. And if for some reason the email message does get lost, you can reach out to the merchant to resend or reissue the virtual card. 


A digital gift card can also be sent at the last minute. So, if you’ve suddenly remembered someone’s birthday or anniversary, you can still send a gift on time. You don’t have to wait until a physical card arrives in the mail or worry if the Post Office is going to lose it. Some merchants also let you pre schedule the delivery of an e gift card.


Say you know someone’s birthday is coming up in four days. You want the card to arrive in their inbox on the exact date. Put in the desired delivery date and you’re all set. It’s a hassle-free way to get your gift list checked off.

Additional Things You Should Know

Another thing to watch out for before you buy a digital gift card is where recipients can use it. Like physical cards, some online gift cards are only good for purchases from specific websites or retailers. Others are more generic or universal, meaning you can use them at any store that accepts Visa and Mastercard. 


Say you buy an Apple Music digital gift card for a friend. But if they don’t buy their music from this platform, the gift card may be useless to them. Be sure to ask friends and family about their interests and what type of gift card they’d like. This can help save headaches later on as digital gift cards are more challenging to transfer to someone else.

Final Thoughts

Those who ask what a digital gift card is may have little to no experience with them. However, online gift cards are rising in popularity because they’re so convenient. An e gift card is essentially an electronic version of a physical gift card. A retailer or seller sends the card’s code to an email address and the receiver can redeem the code online. 

Now that you know what is and how to use one, be sure to check Amphy’s selection of gift cards. They have several options and you can use them to buy anything from art classes to online tours and business articles.

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