Self-checkout kiosks are a quick and convenient way to check out when you’re in a hurry at the store. You can buy most items at store self-checkout lanes, but there are a few restrictions. Gift cards can be complicated, because they may require activation. Below, we explain what you need to know about purchasing gift cards through self-checkout, including stores that allow it, stores that don’t, and what kind of gift cards are affected by each store’s policies.
Can You Buy Gift Cards at Self-Checkout?
Some stores do allow you to purchase gift cards at a self-checkout kiosk — at these stores, gift cards automatically activate once your transaction is complete. Other stores require cashiers to activate gift cards manually, so you must purchase gift cards at a regular register.
Before we share the list of stores where you can buy gift cards at self-checkout, there are some important details to keep in mind about how activation works for specific types of gift cards.
Prepaid Gift Cards (Not Store-Specific)
Prepaid gift cards function like debit cards, but they come with a predetermined amount. Common prepaid gift card issuers are Visa and Mastercard.
You can activate prepaid gift cards in a few different ways. Some prepaid gift cards are automatically activated when scanned and paid for at checkout, while other times, you need to activate the card over the phone after purchase. To do this, you must provide the full gift card account number and often an activation code, which is usually found on the back of the card and is covered for security. You can use a coin to scratch off the protective coating to reveal your activation code.
Most of the time, you can purchase prepaid gift cards at the self-checkout because there’s already a predetermined amount on them. You just need to scan the barcode as you would for any other product and the amount of the gift card will be added to your total. Check your gift card receipt and packaging for details about whether you also need to call to finish activation.
Gift Cards With No Set Amount (Not Store-Specific)
There are also Visa and Mastercard gift cards that allow you to specify what amount you’d like to put on the card. The amounts that can be put on gift cards usually range from $20 to $500.
You can purchase these gift cards by scanning the barcode at checkout just like you do with prepaid gift cards. Once the gift card is scanned, you’ll be prompted to enter the amount you’d like to put on the card if you’re at the self-checkout, or, if you’re at a regular checkout lane, a cashier will ask you for the amount and enter it for you. From there, you will simply pay to complete your transaction. At this point, your gift card should be activated and you should receive an activation notice on your receipt or a separate receipt confirming the activation of the gift card.
While you can typically purchase these cards at self-checkout, some stores may prefer that a cashier handle the transaction.
Store Gift Cards
For gift cards to a particular store, restaurant, or other retailer, you usually have the option of purchasing prepaid cards or putting a custom amount on the card.
The process for buying prepaid store gift cards is the same as the process for prepaid Visa or Mastercard gift cards; you can simply scan the gift card and complete your transaction, often all at self-checkout.
For store gift cards that allow you to choose the amount, the process is also the same as the process for choosing an amount on a Visa or Mastercard gift card. You need to scan the card and then specify how much to put on the gift card. Just like with Visa or Mastercard gift cards, you may be able to purchase these at self-checkout, but some stores may prefer to have a cashier process these transactions.
Stores Where You Can Buy Gift Cards at Self-Checkout
We contacted customer service representatives from a variety of major U.S. retail chains to find out more about their policies for gift card transactions at self-checkout registers. We found several stores that allow it, and we’ve listed them below, starting with the stores with the most available gift cards and easiest self-checkout process.
Note, however, that not all store locations may have self-checkout lanes. Additionally, store policies about purchasing gift cards may vary by location. If you’re set on purchasing a gift card at self-checkout at one of the stores listed below, it is best to call your local store first to confirm that the particular location will allow you to purchase gift cards at self-checkout.
- Checkout process: When you go to check out at the self-checkout kiosk, scan your Kroger shopper’s card if you have one. If the gift card you’re purchasing has a predetermined amount on it, you just need to scan the card and cash out. When your transaction is completed and the payment goes through, the card is activated. If you need to specify an amount to go on the gift card, you’ll be prompted to enter the amount after you scan the card. Once your payment is accepted and the transaction is completed, the gift card will activate automatically.
- Find a Kroger
Check out our related article for the list of gift cards sold at Kroger.
- Checkout process: Scan the card, enter the amount you wish to put on the gift card (if not prepaid for a set amount) and pay. Once your payment is accepted and your transaction is complete, the gift card will automatically activate.
- Find a Safeway
- Checkout process: For prepaid gift cards, you just need to scan the barcode. Once your payment is accepted and the transaction is complete, the gift card will be activated. For gift cards where you can specify an amount, you will need to scan the gift card and then enter the amount you would like to put on the gift card when prompted. Once you pay and your transaction is complete, the gift card will be activated and ready for use.
- Find a Walmart
The Home Depot
- Checkout process: For The Home Depot store gift cards, scan the card’s barcode and then, when prompted, enter the amount you wish to put on the card. If a gift card already has a set dollar amount on it, like a $25 dollar Visa gift card, simply scan the card at the self-checkout kiosk. You’ll follow this same process for other gift cards such as Visa, Mastercard, or restaurant and retailer cards. Once your transaction is complete and your payment method has been accepted, the gift card will activate automatically.
- Find a Home Depot
BJ’s Wholesale Club
- Checkout process: Scan the gift card, specify the amount you wish to put on the card for cards that don’t have a predetermined amount on them, and then pay. Once your payment is accepted and the transaction is completed, the gift card will activate automatically.
- Find a BJ’s Wholesale Club
- Checkout process: While gift cards can be scanned at a self-checkout kiosk, Target recommends purchasing gift cards through a cashier lane. When a gift card is scanned at a self-checkout kiosk, the transaction will be put on hold until a Target employee is available to complete the checkout and activation process.
- Find a Target
- Checkout process: While you can scan gift cards at a self-checkout kiosk, the kiosk will hold the transaction as pending until a Lowe’s employee comes over to complete the transaction. So, while gift cards can be purchased at self-checkout, it may be faster to just go through a cashier lane.
- Find a Lowe’s
Our related research has more information about gift cards typically sold at Walmart.
- Checkout process: If purchasing a gift card at self-checkout, you’ll need the assistance of the self-checkout attendant. He or she will need to assist with the process of purchasing and activating the gift card. You won’t be able to scan it and activate it automatically.
- Find a WinCo Foods
Stores Where You Can’t Buy Gift Cards at Self-Checkout
While several major stores allow you to purchase gift cards at self-checkout, there are some that require that a cashier handle the transaction. We spoke with customer service from the following stores, and they advised us that their stores don’t allow customers to purchase gift cards at self-checkout. Again, keep in mind that store policies can vary by location, and there may be a location near you that does allow gift card purchases at self-checkout. You can call ahead to confirm, but the following stores do not typically allow gift card purchases at self-checkout:
- Food Lion
- Sam’s Club
- Tops Friendly Markets
- Whole Foods
Looking for other ways to buy gift cards? See our research on stores that let you buy a gift card online and pick it up in-store.
- Kroger customer service (800) 576-4377
- Safeway customer service (877) 258-2799
- Walmart customer service (800) 925-6278
- The Home Depot customer service (800) 466-3337
- BJ’s customer service (800) 257-2582
- Target customer service (800) 440-0680
- Lowe’s customer service (800) 445-6937
- WinCo customer service (208) 377-0110