Editor's note: Brady Silva is U.S. subscription practice lead for SKIM Analytical. Julia Murphy is E.U. subscription practice lead for SKIM Europe. Laurie Gaby is global decision journey practice lead for SKIM Analytical. Mike Mabey is global digital commerce practice lead for SKIM Analytical. They can be reached at skimgroup.com/contact.

Four thousand years ago in ancient Mesopotamia, someone etched symbols into a clay tablet. This is now considered the world’s oldest form of writing. After hundreds of years spent deciphering the text, archaeologists were finally able to understand the writing. Perhaps they expected a poem, a fable or a short story. Instead, they uncovered the world’s first shopping list.

This shopping list tells us something vital about people: the habit of making a list, heading down to a store, picking up products, paying and heading home is thousands of years old – as old as writing itself.

In recent years, however, shopping habits have shifted dramatically. People shop without even leaving their homes, at times even skipping ad hoc shopping altogether by subscribing for automatic delivery. As normal as this may seem to us now, it’s inarguably representative of a tectonic shift in human behavior – one that merits further exploration.

As students of consumer decision behavior (and frankly as geeks in behavior), we wanted to dig in and understand these changing consumer habits and their impact on how brands optimize their interactions with their target audiences. So we talked to 22,000 digital services and tangible goods subscribers in nine countries, across four continents.

Our research gave us new insights into, and appreciation for, the differences that digital journeys bring to the traditional journey mind-set. These journeys are exemplified by the explosive growth in digital commerce, direct-to-consumer (D2C) and subscription buying, particularly in a direct cust...